With a win over the Miami Marlins last Tuesday night, Gio Gonzalez improved to (4-0) in his previous five starts and (7-1) overall in 2017, with a 2.96 ERA, a 4.28 FIP, 40 walks (3.82 BB/9), 87 Ks (8.30 K/9) and a .226/.313/.381 line against after 15 starts and 94 1⁄3 innings pitched.
As he’s wont to, Gonzalez passed the credit around when asked about his recent run of success, pointing to Matt Wieters’ contributions in particular when he spoke after the win over the Fish.
“I was just following the game plan with Matt Wieters,” Gonzalez said, after limiting the Marlins to six hits, two walks, and three earned runs in seven innings on the mound in Marlins Park.
“He did a great job just mixing it up and being alert on some of the approaches these guys had,” Gonzalez explained.
Gonzalez also talked about his ability to minimize damage this season, but gave the credit to his defense and pitching coach Mike Maddux, who, he said, helped with pre-start scouting reports and, “... just slowing my game down and understanding what’s going on.”
Though Gonzalez declined to talk himself up, GM Mike Rizzo offered up his thoughts on the left-hander’s strong start to the season last week on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies when he was asked what was behind the southpaw’s resurgence after Gonzalez hovered around or above .500 since his 21-win season in Washington in 2012.
“I think [he’s] very similar physically,” Rizzo said. “Mentally I think he’s a more mature guy. He’s a father now, he’s got one on the way. He’s a much more mature teammate.
“He’s taken to really studying his craft a lot, he does a lot of work now in the video room. He’s really taking care of his body also.
“He came into Spring Training in extremely good shape and is continuing to do his workout program for the rest of the year.
“I think you’ve seen a little bit of a change in the way he attacks hitters now. He’s more of a pitcher now than he’s ever been in his career. He can’t rely on a 95-96 mph fastball from the left side like he used to. Now he’s 89-92. He pitches low in the zone. He’s gone back to relying on that nasty curveball that he has and really has developed a third pitch in the change, so pitching more, throwing more strikes, challenging hitters and getting ahead of them. I think that’s always been the key to him and I think that he’s really now beginning to become more of a pitcher than he was when he was young and had that electric arm.”
Chicago’s defending World Series champion Cubs were going to be a good test for the resurgent left-hander, however, coming into the four-game set with a .259/.361/.456 line vs left-handed pitchers this season, good for 5th/1st/3rd across the line among National League offenses.
Dusty Baker talked before the start about Gonzalez’s ability to work his way out of jams when he’s found himself in them this season.
Gonzalez had a .107/.200/.160 line against with runners in scoring position on the season before Monday’s start.
“I just wish he wouldn’t get in as many [jams], quite honestly,” Baker said.
“One thing, I think, he seems like he pitches with his back against the wall.
“Some people are like that, some people if they have a week to study for a test, they’ll wait until the day before, and some people prepare way in advance.
“I don’t know, I just hope he can keep performing like he’s been performing.”
Gonzalez did not get off to a good start on Monday night. Cubs’ leadoff man Wilson Contreras hit a 3-1 fastball out to left to start the series opener, 1-0.
He worked around two-out walk in the second, and a leadoff walk in the third, and got through a scoreless fourth in spite of a two-out double and some trouble with umpire David Rackley’s strike zone.
Gonzalez was up to 70 pitches when he took the mound in the fifth and he worked around a two-out walk to Anthony Rizzo, striking Kris Bryant out with a 3-2 curve for his sixth K of the game.
The 24-pitch frame left Gonzalez at 94 total, and the left-hander was up to 102 when he hit Jeimer Candelario with an 0-1 fastball with two down in the sixth, and at 108 after a two-out walk to Albert Almora, Jr., but a 2-2 change got pinch hitter Addison Russell swinging for out No. 3 and the left-hander’s eighth K on his 113th pitch.
Gio Gonzalez’s Line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 8 Ks, 1 HR, 113 P, 64 S, 3/3 GO/FO.
“His outing was good,” Baker said, after what ended up a 5-4 loss when the Nationals rallied from 5-0 down in the bottom of the ninth, avoiding being shut out for the 76th time this season.
“He threw a lot of pitches, but other than that first-batter home run he threw the ball well against some very tough hitters over there and he gave us a great chance to win.
“We were kicking ass in the ninth inning,” Gonzalez said when he spoke to reporters about the series opening loss.
“We were giving them something to bite their nails about. It was not something we were going quietly.
“We were fighting all the way to end and it showed that we [have] a stronger way of thinking from this year to last year. We definitely gave the fans their money’s worth.”