Gio Gonzalez is starting Game 1 of the NLCS for the Milwaukee Brewers tonight when they start their best-of-seven series with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 27 starts and 145 2⁄3 innings on the mound for the Washington Nationals, in his seventh season in D.C., Gonzalez had a 4.57 ERA, 70 walks (4.32 BB/9), 126 Ks (7.78 K/9), and a .267/.350/.419 line against before he was traded to the Brewers in return for 21-year-old catcher/first baseman KJ Harrison and 20-year-old middle infielder Gilbert Lara on August 31st.
Gonzalez, 33, told reporters a week before the trade that he wanted to show he still had something to offer after a few months of struggles which saw him go (1-9) over a rough 16-start stretch in which he put up a 6.53 ERA, with 42 walks, 63 Ks, and a .304/.383/.481 line against in 81 1⁄3 IP.
“I want to pitch,” Gonzalez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “I want to show that I can continue to pitch. I believe I can pitch up here, and I believe I can pitch against the best. I want to play as long as I can. It’s one of those things where I know I can pitch better than I’m pitching right now.”
Down the stretch with the Brewers, Gonzalez did pitch better, going (3-0) in five starts with a 2.13 ERA, 10 walks, 22 Ks, and a .157/.240/.270 line against in 25 1⁄3 IP.
Gonzalez didn’t end up pitching in the Brewers’ three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS last week, but manager Craig Counsell announced on Thursday night that he’d give the lefty an opportunity to face the Dodgers in the series opener with LA.
“With Gio, we just -- we like the matchup,” Counsell explained. “We like the matchup against their lineup. And you know, we talked about -- look, it’s no secret that we’re going to use our pitching a little differently than traditionally, than the traditionalists would like. And so for us the first matchup that we liked was Gio on the mound. We’re asking Gio to go out there and get a bunch of outs. How many, you know, we’ll just see how it goes.”
“We know we’ve got a lot of guys,” the Brewers’ manager added. “The depth of our staff is what is the most meaningful thing for me when we kind of figure out how we do this. And we like the depth of our staff, and we think Gio is the perfect option to start us out.”
“They didn’t need me in the first round,” Gonzalez said when he spoke to reporters after he got the nod for Game 1.
“I think our starters did a great job,” he added, “and our bullpen obviously hands down is the best bullpen in baseball.”
Asked what changed for him after the trade that led him to this opportunity, Gonzalez said, “I couldn’t explain what was going on.”
“I just wanted to pitch, and I think this team helped me out. Guys were making great plays.
“Guys were helping me out. Bullpen was unbelievable, so you knew that it was immediately just you can go as long as you want and then you have the bullpen to kind of pick it up from there. That was a safe haven over there.
“So for me, I mean, it doesn’t take away from the guys that I got to play with in Washington.
“They were phenomenal, and I built such a great relationship with guys over there. And now I’m hoping to do the same thing here in Milwaukee. These guys have been great. They’ve been brothers to me, and they’ve treated me like I was one of the guys since the moment I arrived here, and to get some text messages and stuff like that from guys that I played with in the past and that are playing now with Milwaukee.
“So it was kind of cool to know that they wanted me right away and they brought me in. So I can only be thankful and grateful for what I’m doing now.”
Counsell said he thought it was more a change of scenery than any significant mechanical changes that allowed Gonzalez to turn things around.
“When Gio got here, he ended up having about 10 or 11 days off,” Counsell explained.
“Actually the same as kind of going into this start. I think getting him a little break was a very positive thing for him. We haven’t -- I’ll tell you, we haven’t made massive tweaks, changes to Gio. It’s been very small tweaks. And I think he just got into a spot where it’s simply a fresh start and simply a place where, you know, any player that’s traded, you know, there’s a little more juice there.
“You gotta prove yourself, even though you’re an established Major Leaguer. There’s just a little added juice. And I think in Gio’s case, the trick is do you use that in the right way? And Gio has used it in the right way, and he’s put together five really good -- a really good month of September for us, pitched some really solid baseball games for us and pitched to the point where we believe in him in Game 1.”