For Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, the quest for next season is to return to the way he was pitching in 2012, when he earned a career-high 21 wins. The last three seasons, he has not been able to win more than 11 times a year.
Gonzalez said at Winterfest that his personal goal this season is to get back to dominating like he did when the Nationals brought home their first division title.
Last year, he went 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA in 31 starts - not bad numbers, of course. But he had a few starts where he struggled, especially in the end of August, when he gave up 17 runs in his final four starts of the month.
“I want to be ready for 2016, I want to have a monster year,” Gonzalez said. “I want to do whatever I can to get right back into where I belong and it’s back up in the rotation and do what I can do. I think we have such a great staff and a great rotation (and) that’s why it’s going to be tough. Some of these guys are young, and they’re getting stronger and stronger, so I just want to keep up with the current flow that’s going.”
One of those young pitchers is 6-foot-4 right-hander Joe Ross, who will carry more responsibility into 2016 with the departure of free agent right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to the Detroit Tigers.
“Joe Ross? Even his height is impressive,” Gonzalez smiled when asked about the 22-year-old. “Joe is just incredible, seems like he’s just going to get better and better. Seeing his brother and then seeing him, I feel like I’m watching Tyson at his young age, in his prime. They are both polished pitchers. The father and mother are very smart parents. The way Joe goes about his business, everyone on the team loves him.
“His personality fits us all. He just seems like he’s been doing it quite awhile. When he’s on the mound, we just feel confident that he’s going to get us a win. His slider is incredible, his fastball’s electric. Just one of those guys that you want to continue see him go out there and get better and better.”
Gonzalez has worked hard in the offseason to keep up with the younger pitchers on the staff by focusing on his nutrition and flexibility, thanks to his family and the Nationals’ new training staff.
“It’s been great,” Gonzalez said of the first two months of offseason workouts. “I’ve been working with my brother-in-law, who’s been helping me out with my nutrition and staying on my strict diet, and trying work with our training staff, which has been incredible. I have had (head strength and conditioning coach) Matt Eiden and (corrective exercise specialist) Joe Cancellieri, our trainers for the season, constantly work on my flexibility, and keeping me up-to-date and keeping a close eye on me.”
Gonzalez takes the offseason seriously in another vein, as well. As a student of the game, he feels like he can work on details that can make him a better pitcher, even though he already has 217 games in eight major league seasons under his belt.
“There’s always something new to baseball that you can prove,” Gonzalez said. “As it goes for me, I want to get better every year. It’s not just content in one spot. My main goal is always 15- to 20-game winner every year and if I’m not thinking that, it’s just going to be an uphill battle.”
Walks have always been a signal that Gonzalez was not having the pinpoint control he needs to return to that form that helped him reach the All-Star Game two seasons in a row. It was interesting to hear him say what he wanted to improve upon in each start next season:
“I definitely want to work on improving my strikeouts and staying to my game plan,” Gonzalez said. “What I used to do was attack the strike zone and try not beat around the bush, go after these hitters and let them put the ball in play and let my defense help out as much as possible.”
Not only is the training staff brand new, but the Nationals have a new manager and a new pitching coach. Gonzalez is excited to work with both veteran teachers.
“I love Dusty (Baker),” Gonzalez said of the Nationals’ new skipper. “His personality is incredible. You can tell right off the bat he’s awesome, he’s loose. It’s fun to just see him just interact, the way he talks, it’s like he’s known you for 30 years.”
Gonzalez also has worked with pitching coach Mike Maddux in the past and sees the similarities in his famous pitching brother, Greg Maddux.
“Mike has been great,” Gonzalez said. “I actually worked with Mike in 2011 we met together for the All-Star Game in Arizona - he was my pitching coach - and his brother was my pitching coach for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. So I got a chance to work with both of them. I love them both, their personality. You could tell they are definitely brothers.”