First impressions from Gio Gonzalez’s introductory press conference: This guy is going to be a lot of fun to be around. Gonzalez is well-spoken, excitable and has his own knack for thoughtful commentary - all of which will play well in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Nationals finally got around to introducing Gonzalez, who was acquired last month in a six-player swap that cost Washington four of its top prospects. Gonzalez flipped between sounding like a kid who’s just crashed down the steps on Christmas morning, ready to tear open whatever is under the tree, and a youthful veteran who is ready, willing and eager to get to work even though it’s three weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla.
Here’s some of what Gonzalez had to say:
On when the enormity of the trade hit him: “Yesterday, it hit me that I was home, when I was at the Capitals game and I got all the love in the world from all the fans. I think it sets a tone that we’re ready, we’re going to come out here swinging for the fans and we’re definitely going to go out there and try to shut teams down. I think this is a great opportunity and a great organization to do it with. So just getting the hospitality I’ve been getting from the fans and not only from this organization, I think I’m going to be here and I’m going to be happy for a while.”
On how he’ll go about adjusting to the National League: “I think swinging the bat is going to be the hardest adjustment. From my highlights of my swinging, it’s not the prettiest highlights. I definitely want to say I will try to make adjustment, I will try to do my best to try to bunt it down and try to slow it down running to first base and try not to pull anything.”
On how quickly the five-year, $42 million extension he signed earlier this month came together: “As soon as they made this opportunity happen, I figured, you know what? This is a great organization to be a part of. The names, the young talent, the core that they have - I figured I was going from Oakland to the Nationals, it felt like it was the same thing, a young family. As soon as they said, ‘We’re interested, we want you,’ when they made the trade happen, I was more than happy to smile. My family, we sat down and analyzed the whole thing. It came down to, we’re happy, this is where we want to be. I get to come back home to see my family and play against the Marlins at home. But this is the most important here, to be a part of a new organization and to represent the Washington Nationals.”
On the whirlwind month since the trade was completed: “It’s been a roller coaster ride, definitely a roller coaster ride - a lot of ups and downs, mixed emotions. It wasn’t settled in when I got traded. But when I started getting phone calls from people from the Nationals, and all the stuff that was happening.Officially when I put the jersey on, that’s when it hit me the hardest. It’s changed. Now I’m representing a new team, a new city. ... Finally, I get to settle down, go home, get ready for spring training and hopefully get ready to bring a championship in October to the Nationals.”
On pitching in a rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann: “I feel honored to be a part of it. I feel like the names that are out there, it was the same way in Oakland, where I had to follow up behind some great, talented pitchers. To be in that same rotation, it just feels like we started all over again with a new organization. I’m going to be with these guys for quite a whole and they’re all young, talented ballplayers. Not to take away from the rotation, but our defense is going to be unbelievable, and so is our offense. You look at our rotation and our lineup and I think it’s going to be a fun season with the Washington Nationals.”
On what it will be like to pitch against the National League East: “It’s definitely going to be a work in progress. This is the exciting part, where I get to watch ... Strasburg and Jordan go out there and pitch. We’re going to go out there and I get to study off these guys every night. I get to see what left-handed pitching has done and also right-handed, what (hitters) do in certain counts. That’s something I did in Oakland, where I learned, I studied off our pitching. I have to take it upon myself and go out there and do the same thing. Knowing that there’s going to be a new situation for me, I think it’s going to be a fun challenge. ... Learning to pitch to certain hitters I’ve never faced, I think it’s both ways - I’ve never seen them and they’ve never seen me. I think it works in our favor as a pitcher.”
After the press conference, speaking to a small group of reporters, Gonzalez was equally effusive about his new team and the adjustments he’d have to make as a member of the Nationals.
On the media interest at his introduction: “I’ve never experienced this. I’ve only gotten this kind of press after games. But to get it just for a trade and signing, this is unbelievable. To do it with my family, moving to a city and to a new team, I think it’s going to be great.”
Offering a scouting report on how he pitches: “I like to keep the ball down. You have to work around their power and try to find their weakness, and work around it immediately. I’ve had some great defenses in Oakland where these guys helped me a lot, got me out of some really sticky situations. I had great catchers, both of them. I’m hoping the catchers we have and the defense we have, they’re going to get me out of a lot of tough situations.”
On how he’ll go about cutting down his walk totals: “I have to attack the strike zone. That’s the main key right there. Hopefully, within time, I get in good with the umpires. I’ll take them out to dinner or something like that. I’m definitely going to try to work on that. I’m pretty sure working with (pitching coach Steve McCatty), he’s going to help me out. I’m really excited. This is going to be a new season, a new era. ... If I can get past the walks situation, I think it balances out where I can go out there and finally get some more innings, probably compete a little harder. There’s a lot of stuff I need to polish and I need to dust off. I’m not saying I’m going to be perfect, but I will strive to be.”
On meeting new teammate Jayson Werth today at Nationals Park: “I actually met Jayson Werth earlier. He gave me a great welcome and showed me around the facilities. I think he just shows that it’s going to be exciting. I was told this is a young group of guys that likes to have fun and compete and is going to keep the team loose. That’s exactly what I want to do.”
On whether he feels pressure to produce after the trade and the extension: “I don’t look at it as a pressure situation. I look at it as a challenge situation. In life, everyone has to go through a challenge. I love the fact that the Nationals, everyone is out there supporting. How I am, and the person that I will always be, I have to go out there and compete. I always have to strive to get better. I’m never content in any situation that I’m in. When the opportunity, I’m hoping to run with it and try to help win, and try to see you guys in Ocotber, talking about a playoff run and a World Series championship.”
On his first night in Washington, D.C., with his family Tuesday night: “Last night, I visited the Lincoln Memorial. When you’ve never been here, you appreciate everything that’s going on. When we got here, it was so exciting to see all these things that you’ve never seen. When we got here, we enjoyed. We were running up the steps, screaming, ‘Rocky’! Obviously, the wrong city, but we were screaming. We also saw where Forrest Gump was shot. We quoted a lot of movies (like) ‘Independence Day.’ We did everything. We definitely had great memories here. Caps game - and they won! ... We were talking about it with my dad, and he was like, ‘We’ve got to go see everything right now.’ I was like, ‘Dad, I’m going to be here for the next five years and beyond that. We’ll see plenty of it. Just enjoy your time, let’s get out of the cold and get into your car.’ “