LOS ANGELES - In Game 1 of the National League Division Series, when Max Scherzer lost to left-hander Clayton Kershaw by a single run, and the Nats rebounded in Game 2, the responsibility for the Nationals to go ahead in the series with the Dodgers turned to southpaw Gio Gonzalez this afternoon.
It has not been Gonzalez's best season, but if he can come through with a solid start today in Game 3, all those shaky outings of 2016 will fade away.
Gonzalez looks to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series against a club that has struggled this season against left-handers.
He has done well against L.A. in the regular season, enjoying a 3-1 record with a 1.69 ERA in five career starts. In his last start at Dodgers Stadium on Aug. 10, 2015, Gonzalez fired eight shutout innings.
This season, Gonzalez reached double-digit victories for the seventh consecutive season, going 11-11 with a 4.57 ERA. He hasn't won more than 11 games for the Nats since his breakout 2012 campaign, when he went 21-8. His 4.57 ERA is his worst mark since 2008. He had never had an ERA worse than 3.79 in D.C. The 19 homers he allowed in 2016 were his most allowed in a single season.
His ERA when ahead in the count was 2.29 this season, but when behind in the count, it plummets to 6.02. His ERA with runners in scoring position was a whopping 18.34.
When asked to reflect on his season, Gonzalez was emphatic and direct.
"I have," Gonzalez said. "Oct. 2 was the last time I thought about it. This is the playoffs now. That's over with."
When pressed further about his consistency, Gonzalez said:
"I want to talk about now. ... It's playoff time. So this is the time you need to turn it on and get ready to go. If they need me to pitch against the Dodgers, then I'm going to pitch against the Dodgers."
Gonzalez should be well-rested. Instead of having to fly in to Southern California after Game 2, Gonzalez flew ahead of the club earlier Sunday.
Gonzalez faced the Dodgers this season, allowing only an early RBI single to Charlie Culberson as the Nationals cruised to an 8-1 win on July 20 at Nationals Park. Gonzalez surrendered just three hits and one run over six innings, with two walks and six strikeouts.
He knows he cannot come with the same game plan this time because the Dodgers are a smart hitting team. Gonzalez will have to mix it up.
"It's never easy facing that lineup," Gonzalez said. "I would never say, 'Hey, just go out there and pitch.' You definitely have to have some common sense to throw (to) some of these guys. You can't just groove a fastball right down the middle.
"Just watching them, how they go and approach their swing and their at-bats, you just have to have a different approach from the last start. I'm sure they are not going to think, 'Hey, well, he pitched me like this.' We have to continue to face them this way. Same thing as their hitting. I'm not thinking they are to go out there with the same mentality as their last start against me."
Gonzalez did reveal his determination to make an impact and Game 3 and demonstrated how much he wants to pitch well for manager Dusty Baker, who has let him pitch longer into games than previous manager Matt Williams - a point several pitchers have noted this season as one reason why the pitching staff is more consistent.
"I do want to go deep in the game, actually," Gonzalez said. "I really want to expand that fifth, sixth innings, try to give the team a great chance to get deep in our bullpen, especially with the back end of our bullpen. We have some strong arms; try to get to Shawn Kelley or (Mark) Melancon. It would be great to get to those guys. It's a good sign if you did that. You see those guys come out, you know you did something well in this game.
"I want to take the opportunity to thank Dusty Baker for giving me this chance to pitch in Game 3 for the postseason. I want to do my best to not let him down. This is a great opportunity and I want to go out there and show that I can pitch in this situation."