Photo by Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
By Rich Mancuso
Gio Gonzalez says his success pitching at Citi Field comes from the energy of the fans and a rivalry that has developed between his team, the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Both teams are closing the first half of the season this weekend with four games prior to the All-Star break.
But the success at Citi Field, and against the Mets for the 30 year old lefthander could be one of those elements of baseball that continue to make him so dominant when he takes the mound in New York.
Gonzalez, 4-8 with a 4.79 ERA is the scheduled starter for a Sunday afternoon finale at Citi Field. He has lost seven of his last eight decisions, something that he wants to improve in the second half of a season where his fastball and secondary pitches need to be in command.
He is 7-1 at Citi Field,and he wants that win in the final start before the break. More importantly, the first place Nationals with a win would open up a six game lead over the Mets in the NL East. HIs last start in mid May at Citi Field, Gonzalez limited the Mets to one run, that a home run ball thrown to Yoenis Cespedes. He struck out five and walked one in 6.1 innings.
However, with all the success at Citi Field, and with an overall successful career that included winning 21-games with the Nationals in 2012, Gio Gonzalez is not content. He wants to get better, lower the ERA and be a significant part of the Nationals getting over the hump and playing baseball deep into October.
He says, it’s about executing his pitches at a much better ratio.
“If you go 0-2 , you can’t continue to find the strikeout pitch,” Gonzalez said in the visitor’s dugout at Citi Field. “I have to execute what I want. There are a lot of things I want to work on and Sunday’s start, I intend to make that happen.”
He finished doing some long tossing. Gonzalez has been in that routine more, and he thanks Yusmeiro Petit a relief pitcher on the Nationals for giving him the incentive to do that. It has helped get the arm stronger, and for a pitcher to avoid that lazy arm syndrome.
“Something simple as long tossing can go a long way,” he said. “Getting a chance to pitch more in the game. I’m seeing the strike zone more. Attacking the strike zone instead of walking guys. That’s a big plus.”
And there is always room for adjustments. Gonzalez, obtained by the Nationals from Oakland in 2011, signed a lucrative four year contract and overall has lived up to expectations on a pitching staff that also includes strikeout strikeout artists ,Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. He is one of the veterans in a relatively young pitching staff that is considered one of the top three in baseball.
He says: “I don’t think I will be satisfied til the day I retire. A lot of things I want to continue doing in my career as long as I stay healthy. Trying to give my team a chance every time. Obviously, I want to do a lot better. I want to finish this half of the season strong so the second half of the season I can continue there on with success.”
“Gio is getting more confident with each start and is always working to improve,” said Dusty Baker the first year manager of the Nationals. “I been around some of the best, faced them and managed them. Gio has that in him to be the best.”
It is that fastball that is consistent around 90 or above. And the secondary pitches. A changeup and curve that at times sneaks on the hitter, If the ball locates, Gio feels the pitch count is lower and that also means going deeper into games.
With 30 or more starts five of the last six seasons, the Hialeah Florida resident, who has a Cuban background, looks forward to the four-day hiatus of the All-Star break. Not being selected to the NL squad for the annual mid- summer classic was expected, and there is more time ahead to be a part of that game.
He says, the break is needed. And with baseball, a game that is played everyday, the wear and tear can take a toll. So what does Gio Gonzalez do during the brief hiatus from the schedule?
“Detach from baseball a couple of days is good,” he says. “Take a couple of days off and then throw. It gives the body some time to recover. Finally get a chance to shut it down a couple of days. Gotta stay healthy. That’s the main thing in baseball.”
For him, and all the others that play the game it’s a matter of staying healthy. For the Nationals, having Gio Gonzalez at full strength and healthy only makes their pitching staff much tougher to contend with as they strive to go far in October.