A gregarious presence and a veteran who is happy to show younger players the ropes, Gonzalez immediately meshed with his Nats teammates and had success in Washington, posting a 3.03 ERA in 47 games and serving as a key left-hander in the Nats bullpen.
Now Gonzalez is back with the Nats after signing a minor league deal on Tuesday. He arrived in the clubhouse this morning, got hugs from teammates and set up his locker in between Rafael Soriano and Ross Detwiler, two of his buddies.
“It’s a great feeling, just like I was expecting,” Gonzalez said. “It feels like I never left. It’s always a good feeling, man.”
Gonzalez said that he drew interest from four teams other than the Nationals this offseason, and all four of those other teams have their spring training complexes in Arizona, where Gonzalez has a home. The proximity led him to consider signing with one of those four squads, but he opted for the Nats instead.
“First of all, first class treatment from the top all the way down,” Gonzalez said, when asked why the Nats were the right fit. “Everything is first class. And the opportunity to win. I definitely see the upside. I definitely see this team as World Series contenders. (I’m at the) point of my career that I want a ring, and I feel this is the best opportunity to get it.”
Gonzalez signed a minor league deal with the Nats in 2012 and was added to the team’s active roster in early June. He immediately made an impact, allowing a run in just one of his first 18 appearances with the big league club, and was a part of the team’s postseason roster. That strong season landed Gonzalez a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Brewers last winter, but Gonzalez wasn’t able to replicate the success that he had in D.C.
He posted a 4.68 ERA in 75 games with Milwaukee, and struggled down the stretch after a solid start to the season, posting a 7.94 ERA and 2.000 WHIP after the All-Star break. Typically a guy who has had success against left-handed hitters, Gonzalez allowed lefties to hit .274/.336/.443 off him last season.
“It was kind of those things where it was a bad year,” Gonzalez said. “You have those. I don’t put too much thought into it. This is a brand new year. I know what I’m capable of doing. And again, don’t put much thought into what I’ve done behind me. Everything else is from here on. And again, with this energy and these guys, I’m looking forward to a great season.”
The struggles last season limited Gonzalez’s options this offseason and mean that he’s back with the Nats on a minor league deal again, but the way he sees it, he won a job on this team in this situation two years ago. He’s now ready to try and do it again.
“Same kind of deal. Do what I do and just take it from there,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been staying fit. Arm is great. Everything feels great. ... Let’s go to work, man. It doesn’t take me long to get ready. I pretty much know my body and aware what I need to do and need to get. I’m right there with them.”
This time around, Gonzalez faces stiff competition for a spot in the Nats’ opening day bullpen. A host of relievers are in the mix for one of two available bullpen spots, including lefty Xavier Cedeno, who was with the Nats down the stretch last season and has thrown three scoreless innings so far this spring.
Gonzalez will take a physical today, according to manager Matt Williams, and then will throw a bullpen session tomorrow in front of pitching coach Steve McCatty and others. The Nats will then determine the next step in Gonzalez’s throwing program.
The 35-year-old lefty spent a good bit of time this morning chatting with Soriano, his former teammate with the Braves from 2007-2009 and a guy who Gonzalez became good friends with.
“That’s my compadre, man,” Gonzalez said. “I’m godfather of his son, and it’s awesome to be around him and all these other guys, also. I feel like I have a great relationship with them, and again, they made me feel right at home as soon as I got here, so awesome feeling.”