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Nationals' skipper Matt Williams on Gio Gonzalez being more "Gio"

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Washington Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez is in camp and healthy and ready to take on his role in what looks like it should be an impressive rotation. Can the 29-year-old southpaw put together another big campaign like his 2012 season?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer signed a blockbuster 7-year/$210M deal with the Washington Nationals this winter. Stephen Strasburg is 26-going-on-27 years old and coming off a 200+ inning, 242 K, +4.3 fWAR campaign in 2014.

Right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are both in their contract years and headed for free agency if they don't sign extensions with the Nats. Tanner Roark, after Scherzer signed, is rumored to be headed back to the bullpen.

"We see him coming back from the injury and having a dominant second half. And the way he pitched was more 'Gio.'" -Matt Williams on Gio Gonzalez's return from the DL last season

Gio Gonzalez? He's coming off a season in which he suffered a left shoulder injury and landed on the DL for the first time in his career, but the 29-year-old lefty returned from a month-long stint on the disabled list in June to go (7-6) in 18 starts with a 3.08 ERA, 36 walks (3.00 BB/9) and 109 Ks (9.08 K/9)  in 108 IP over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .219/.287/.311 line.

Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked to reporters in October about the thinking that went into choosing Gonzalez to start Game 4 of the NLDS with the San Francisco Giants.

"Well, over the last six weeks, he's given us really good pitching performances," Williams said. "His numbers the last month of the season, especially, last four starts, were fantastic."

"He's been going deep in games for us and using all of his pitches for strikes when he wants to. So hope for more of the same tomorrow."

Gonzalez went four innings in his third postseason start, giving up four hits, a walk and two unearned runs in what ended up a season-ending loss for the Nationals in which he received no decision.

When the left-hander reported to Spring Training in Viera, Florida last week, he talked to reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner, about being healthy and ready to put the shoulder concerns behind him and do his part in what should be an impressive rotation:

"'With the shoulder injury,'" Gonzalez said, "'I wanted to take as much time off as possible. I was fortunate to get back in shape and get ready to go. I’m excited to start throwing already and show what my offseason has been about. I haven’t been joking around.'"

Matt Williams said Tuesday he understood what his starter went through last season in dealing with the shoulder issues.

"It's the first time, one, that he's ever had physical issues," Williams explained.

"He's always been completely healthy. Last year he had a little feeling in the shoulder. Everything turned out fine as far as the results go. But that's a shocker to a player that has never had something like that before.

"So, he worked through that and he worked through getting through that. It's a learning process for him. During that time it was a struggle for him because he didn't feel right and wasn't throwing the ball the way he wanted to throw the ball. I think the greatest thing for him though, is his second half. The way he responded coming out of that injury and being able to go back out and get done what he wanted to get done."

Williams also said it made sense that Gonzalez was coming in this Spring thinking he had something to prove.

"He doesn't want the total result of last year to be what people think of him. We see beyond that though, we see him coming back from the injury and having a dominant second half. And the way he pitched was more 'Gio.' And I think he would admit that too. So, I think he's fine. I think he's enthusiastic. He's running through his drills. He's excited about being here and being part of it. I think mentally he's right on track and he's ready to go. And I know he feels great, so give him the ball and let him go."