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Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez on generating ground balls, hoping for a monster season

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Washington Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez talked to reporters earlier this month about trying to generate more ground ball outs in 2015 and what he's looking to improve on as he prepares for the 2016 campaign. Gonzalez says he hopes to have a monster season.

Photo © Ed Chigliak/Federal Baseball
Photo © Ed Chigliak/Federal Baseball

Washington Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez focused on throwing his two-seamer more this past season in the hopes of inducing more ground ball outs, with mixed results.

Gonzalez, 30, explained his thinking early in the 2015 campaign, telling reporters,  including the Washington Post's James Wagner, that he liked the feel of the pitch.

"You can take it with a grain of salt, I mean, it worked out good, because it's ground balls, but then ERA? It didn't add up for me, so maybe I stick to pop ups..." -Gio Gonzalez on focusing on generating ground balls in 2015

"I wanted to work on two-seamers to see what it felt like and then I’ve just been throwing it more often," Gonzalez said in June. "I feel like I’ve gotten better results than a four-seam fastball. Don’t get me wrong: I still mix in a four-seam fastball. It’s mostly two-seam. I’ve stuck to it and felt stronger with my two-seam."

"Any ball down in the ground is way better than a ball in the air," Gonzalez continued. "Just my opinion.

"A ball on the ground has a chance for a double play or groundball out. Anything in the air has a chance to be a double or home run."

Gonzalez's ground ball rate rose to a career-high 53.8%, up from 48.2, 43.9 and 44.8% in his first three seasons in D.C., respectively, and his fly ball percentage fell to 26.6%, a career low, down from 30%, 33.3% and 36.6% in the previous three seasons.

His HR/FB ratio fell as well, to 5.9%, down from 9.7% and 6.6% in 2013-14, and closer to the 5.8% HR/FB he posted in his first season with the Nationals in 2012.

Opposing hitters had a .352 AVG against his two-seamer, however, vs a .219 AVG vs his four-seamer. Like he said recently at Nats WinterFest: mixed results.

"You can take it with a grain of salt, I mean, it worked out good, because it's ground balls," Gonzalez said, "but then ERA?"

"It didn't add up for me, so maybe I stick to pop ups or something like that. I don't know. But I definitely want to work on improving my strikeouts and just staying to my game plan. What I used to do was attack the strike zone and try not to beat around the bush. Go after these hitters and let them put the ball in play and let my defense help out as much as possible."

Gonzalez's 3.79 ERA was the highest Earned Run Average he's posted in his four seasons with the Nationals, up from 2.89, 3.36 and 3.57 from 2012-2014. His FIP over that stretch: 2.82, 3.41, 3.03 and 3.05. He finished the season at 3.7 fWAR, up from the previous two seasons (3.2 in each), but not quite up to his career-high 5.0 fWAR campaign in 2012.

His goals for 2016? Gonzalez was asked if he wanted to make any improvements?

"There are always improvements," he said. "I want to get better bunts down. I want to learn how to hit the ball right. I want to also locate a fastball down and away.

"There's always something new to baseball that you can improve and as it goes for me I want to get better every year, it's not just content in one spot. My main goal is always 15-20 game winner every year and if I'm not thinking that it's just going to be another uphill battle."

"There are always improvements. I want to get better bunts down. I want to learn how to hit the ball right. I want to also locate a fastball down and away..." -Gio Gonzalez on room for improvement in 2016

Gonzalez will be working with a new pitching coach for the first time since the Nats' deal with the Oakland A's brought him to the nation's capital in 2011-12.

He has history with new pitching coach Mike Maddux though.

"I actually worked with Mike in 2011, obviously when we met together to go to the All-Star Game in Arizona, he was my pitching coach and his brother was my pitching coach for the 2013 World Baseball Classic," Gonzalez said.

"So I had a chance to work with both of them and I love them both, their personality, you can tell they're definitely brothers."

Gonzalez said he was hoping for big things in 2016.

"I want to have a monster year. I want to do whatever I can to get right back into where I belong and it's back up in the rotation and doing what I can do," he said.

Will he be part of the Nationals' rotation when the season begins? Multiple reports have said the Nats have discussed trading the southpaw this winter:

"It wouldn't come as a surprise if the Nats dangled left-hander Gio Gonzalez as trade bait," in their search for a leadoff hitter, MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote yesterday.

"He has another year on his contract, plus an option left. Gonzalez is scheduled to make $12 million in 2016."

Washington Post writer James Wagner wrote about the possibility of a trade in discussing the Nats potentially signing a starter this winter.

"If the Nationals did add a starter, it would be to trade a starter to fill their other needs," he suggested.

"Gio Gonzalez, for example, could be attractive trade bait because of his age (30) and contract (under team control for three more season for $36 million)."

Will Gonzalez be back for a fifth season in D.C. in 2016? Will the monster season he's hoping to have come as a part of the Nationals' rotation?