With a (3-2) record over his last six starts, a 3.25 ERA and a .235/.325/.409 line against in his last 36 innings on the mound, Gio Gonzalez had turned things around heading into Friday night’s series opener with the San Francisco Giants.
His solid stretch on the mound had not gone unnoticed by Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker, who talked before the game about working with Gonzalez and encouraging Washington’s 30-year-old lefty to work towards becoming more efficient.
“I’ve asked him to watch certain guys that throw less than he throws and see how they’re still winning throwing less than what he throws,” Baker explained.
“If he can keep what he’s blessed with, but also tries to pick up some things from some other guys... there are very few power left-handed pitchers, most of them get you out by letting you get yourself out.
“So, he has a combination of both. He can power you and he’s learning how to let you get yourself out.
“We had a long talk last time about minimizing your pitches and you don’t have to strike everybody out and so, he’s better.”
Baker also encouraged Gonzalez to be a little... less nice?
“I just urged him to be not as good or friendly on the mound,” Baker explained.
“Like I saw him cutting it up with somebody in the dugout, and I said, ‘Don’t be nice to him,’ because he’s trying to figure out how to get you. I like Gio. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like Gio, but ‘like’ isn’t what we’re here for.”
On Friday night in the nation’s capital, Gonzalez was in command and efficient on the mound against Giants, in his second straight start opposite the National League West’s current (struggling) division leaders.
After holding the Giants to two runs (one earned) on six hits last week in the Nats’ 3-1 loss in AT&T Park, Gonzalez held Giants’ hitters to one run on two hits in seven innings on Friday night, striking out seven in a 5-1 win.
Gonzalez threw a total of 104 pitches, 67 of them strikes, working quickly all night and giving up just the one run on a home run on a 2-2 pitch to Angel Pagan in the fourth.
“He had good command,” Baker said after the win, “had his changeup working tonight, an occasional breaking ball, he threw his fastball in and out, which kept them honest.
“He threw a very good game. I don’t know if he shook [Wilson] Ramos off at all, but you could tell they were on the same page on what he wanted to throw.”
“You’re getting more and more confident in Gio because he gets more and more confidence in himself,” Baker continued.
“And I mean, we all know what Gio can do. He went through a bad stretch there, but hopefully it’s over, never to return.”
Baker and Gonzalez were asked what was going wrong when he struggled and what’s been different for the left-hander over the stretch of strong outings?
“Probably some untimely walks,” Baker said, talking about the rough stretch. “Also we didn’t get him a whole bunch of run support and also [he would] get two quick strikes on somebody and end up 3-2 or walking him and then gave up a number — he was almost out of trouble a lot of times — a number of two-out base hits, which is deflating.”
Gonzalez said he didn’t think anything was different in his approach.
“It’s been the same guy. Just going out there and, ‘Give me the ball,’ that’s it. I don’t think there’s a specific difference, just now it’s just a different kind of momentum.”
Gonzalez got the momentum rolling in his favor Friday night and kept it going for his time on the mound. He worked quickly and got good results, but were the results a product of his tempo, or did he pick up the tempo when he got good results?
“I think the good results lead to the fast tempo,” Baker said, “because sometimes he can get so quick that he doesn’t get the fast results, and so I hope he’s learning that when he has his control, things are going good, you keep it at a fast tempo.
“When things are going badly, or you get out of whack, then you slow your tempo down until you get it back.”