Gio Gonzalez’s $12M option for 2018 vested when the Washington Nationals’ left-hander reached 180 innings pitched on September 12, 2017. It was the first time Gonzalez reached that mark since 2013.
Gonzalez finished the regular season, his tenth in the majors, with a (15-9) record in 32 starts, and a 2.96 ERA, 79 walks (3.54 BB/9), 188 Ks (8.42 K/9), and a .213/.298/.345 line against over 201 innings.
The left-hander struggled down the stretch, however, with a 5.85 ERA, 16 walks, 36 Ks and a .264/.350/.424 line against over his last six starts and 32 1⁄3 innings pitched, and he gave up six hits, six walks, and six earned runs in 8 IP on the mound during his two starts in the NLDS with the Chicago Cubs.
Before he started in Game 2 against the Cubbies, Gonzalez joked with reporters when he was asked what he’d learned about himself as a pitcher in 2017.
“What have I learned about myself as a pitcher?” Gonzalez asked rhetorically. “I’m six-foot. I’ve got long hair, short hair. There’s times I have a beard, don’t have a beard.
“No, just constantly trying to re-evolve, trying to find a new way to throw strikes.
“The game’s changing. If you’re seeing, the hitting is pretty tough. So for us, it’s trying to attack the strike zone, trying to lock in immediately. You can’t let yourself get in a groove after giving up a couple runs. You have to get it going right off the bat.
“I’ve learned this year with working with Matt [Wieters] and seeing our starting rotation, how right off the bat, they are attacking the hitters, they are attacking the strike zone, and you know, they are going out there and giving themselves innings. That’s why they are going deep in the game.”
Gonzalez also changed things up with his pitch selection.
Having lost velocity on his fastball for the sixth straight season (down from 94.2 mph in 2012, his first season in D.C., to 90.1 mph last year), the lefty relied on it less, throwing it 56.6% of the time, down from 64.4% in 2016, and Gonzalez used his curve (24.7%, up from 19.8% in 2016) and change (18.6%, up from 15.7%) more often.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo, in a late June interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, talked about the changes he saw in Gonzalez that were allowing him to succeed.
“He’s more of a pitcher now than he’s ever been in his career,” Rizzo explained.
“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.”
Will Gonzalez, now 32, continue to adjust to what he has now? Will he have a big year in 2018 with free agency looming next winter? What are you expecting from the one lefty in the Nationals’ rotation this season?