Gio Gonzalez wrapped up his first half of the 2017 campaign with three straight losses, in spite of the fact that the Washington Nationals’ left-hander posted a 2.37 ERA and a .167/.276/.303 line against in 19 innings pitched over that losing streak.
Gonzalez, 31, didn’t make it to the All-Star Game in Miami, which was a preseason goal for the Hialeah, Florida-born southpaw, but he put together a pretty impressive first half.
Gonzalez went into the Break with a 2.86 ERA, a 4.19 FIP, 49 walks (3.89 BB/9), 110 Ks (8.74 K/9) and a .216/.307/.368 line against in 18 starts and 113 1⁄3 IP.
Opposing hitters put up a .212 AVG on his fastball in the first half, a .136 AVG on his curve, a .250 AVG on his two-seamer and a .269 AVG on his changeup.
“He’s more of a pitcher now than he’s ever been in his career,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN’s Sports Junkies in late June.
“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.”
Friday night, in the series and second-half opener in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, Gonzalez gave up a couple of infield singles early, but completed three scoreless on a total of 41 pitches as the Nats jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the Reds.
Brian Goodwin made a diving, two-out catch in center to rob Jose Peraza of extra bases and keep it scoreless after a one-out double and walk put two on in the bottom of the fourth inning, and Gonzalez picked up two Ks as he retired the Reds in order in a quick, 13-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth.
After he set the Reds down in 1-2-3 sixth and seventh innings, the Nationals’ lefty was up to 11-straight batters retired and 101 pitches overall.
Gonzalez came back out for the bottom of the eighth and worked around an infield single for another scoreless frame, this one an eight-pitch inning that left him at 109, and Dusty Baker sent him back out for the ninth, but only for one batter.
Gonzalez retired Joey Votto on his 113th pitch before Baker went to the bullpen for Matt Albers, and after the Reds loaded the bases with two out, Matt Grace, who got the final out of the game, 5-0 final.
“That was as sharp as I’ve seen him and the longest he kept his sharpness,” Baker told reporters when asked about Gonzalez’s outing after the game, “... and he had an outstanding breaking ball. He located his fastball well, threw an occasional changeup and this is a tough offensive he faced in a very short ball park. You never really feel comfortable here because you can reach the fences and they’ve got quite a few guys over there that can reach the fences.
“That was outstanding for Gio. Thought that was long enough because we need him for — I don’t know, 15-20 more starts hopefully. He was very good tonight.”
Gonzalez threw 44 curveballs against the Reds, 26 for strikes, got 13 swings, three swinging strikes, and 18 strikes not put in play, with 49 four-seamers (33 strikes, 25 swings, three swinging strikes, 22 strikes not put in play), and 20 changeups (13 strikes, eight swings, two swinging strikes, 18 not put in play).
Gonzalez, who hadn’t thrown a complete game since back in 2013, had a shot at one tonight, though his pitch count was high, and Baker said he wasn’t really tempted to let the left-hander go for it even though it was two outs away.
“I wasn’t that tempted. We started to start with somebody else in the ninth, but even though Joey Votto had had pretty good success against Gio, but Gio had his breaking ball tonight, big time. We knew that he was only going to face Joey Votto and then we were going to get him out of there. This club never stops, they don’t quit over there, and as you see, they were almost within slam reach and the tying run on deck, so no I wasn’t that tempted.”