He toils in the shadows of more highly-regarded starters who take the mound, but Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez is having almost as good of a season as any pitcher in the Major Leagues outside of those residing in the nation’s capital.
On a staff that has a three-time Cy Young Award Winner (Max Scherzer) and a former No. 1 overall draft pick who himself is a three-time All-Star (Stephen Strasburg), there are few pitchers in baseball having as good of a year as Gonzalez, who, most recently, threw a seven-inning gem in allowing just five hits and three runs while striking out nine in the Nationals’ 5-3 win in Atlanta in 14 innings.
That quality start (he did not factor in the decision) actually raised his ERA from 2.10 to 2.27, which gives you an indication of how well the soon-to-be free agent at the end of the season has twirled this season, as Washington is now 8-4 in games Gonzalez has started in this season.
“I would love to have a big year with the team and with everything that’s going around, I would love to do that,” Gonzalez said to the Washington Post before the start of this season. “I just got to stay healthy. That’s all I got to do.”
As long as he remains healthy, which he did as he closed out 2017 in fine form, his 2018 may end up being his best season yet. In 71.1 innings so far this season, Gonzalez has allowed just 60 hits while striking out 72. Only four of his 1,231 pitches so far this season have left the yard as hitters are batting a paltry .225 with a combined OPS of .632.
Those numbers are even more impressive taking in to account that his average fastball is just over 90 miles per hour, as Gonzalez has needed to use his secondary pitches effectively to make up for the decrease in velocity in his fastball since he first joined the Nationals in 2012.
“Last year was a huge adjustment point,” Gonzalez said to the Washington Post before the start of this season. “Last year I was actually pitching. I wasn’t trying to throw it. I understand that I have to be a pitcher. And that’s what it was. I don’t have to throw hard to get outs, and last year proved it. You just have to locate.”
His continued dominance is important for the Nationals, whose win against Atlanta forced a first-place tie between the two teams (34-24). Scherzer is continuing his dominant form, striking out 120 in 79.1 innings pitched on his way to a 9-1 record, but, outside of he and Gonzalez, the rest of the pitching staff has underperformed. If Atlanta, as well as the surprising Philadelphia Phillies, continues their good form into the summer, Washington’s top two starters need to push on like they have to keep pace.
If that’s indeed the case, the Nationals might have the right person for the job in Gonzalez, only one of four players in team history since the move to Washington to appear in each of its four playoff series.