Gio Gonzalez heard the question frequently in the days between when the Washington Nationals traded for him and he first appeared in his new uniform. He had become an all-star and piled up victories, sure, but that came in the American League and Oakland’s cavernous stadium. How, then, would he handle a new league and the cozier dimensions at Nationals Park and bandboxes like Citizens Bank Park?
The returns through the first quarter of the season suggest two emergent facts: Any park you put Gonzalez in suits him just fine, and the National League has far more to learn about him than he does it.
Gonzalez struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced Monday, racking up swings and misses at his typically outstanding rate – this year, opposing hitters have missed with 29 percent of their swings against him. Gonzalez allowed just three hits and three walks.
After Gonzalez struck out nine total, he leads the major leagues with 69 strikeouts, one more than Justin Verlander. He leads the Nationals with a 1.98 ERA.
Gonzalez has put himself in line for strong all-star consideration and has been every bit as dominant as ace Stephen Strasburg, actually striking out more batters and posting a lower ERA. In five of his nine starts, Gonzalez has allowed three hits or fewer. He has allowed one homer in his 54 2/3 innings.
In the first quarter of his first season, at least, he has validated the Nationals’ decision to send a four-prospect haul to the Athletics this winter. The Nationals have won eight of his nine starts.
Even as Gonzalez continued his ascension among the game’s elite starters, Manager Davey Johnson found something to nitpick. Gonzalez needed 108 pitches to get through six innings, also walking three.
“I’d prefer he didn’t have as many strikeouts and fewer pitches and could go further,” Johnson said. “He’s got such great stuff I’d prefer to see him get in the seventh or eighth inning. Sixth inning puts a crimp in my bullpen.”
Said Gonzalez: “I have never said I like the high strikeouts. That’s one of those things that I was just trying to attack the strike zone.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 3, Toledo 1: Corey Brown went 2 for 4 with a home run. He is hitting .282/.394/.518. Brett Carroll went 2 for 4 with a double. Tanner Roark allowed no runs in five innings on two hits and a walk, striking out four.
Altoona 4, Harrisburg 2: Eury Perez went 2 for 4 with a walk. Jose Lozada went 3 for 4 with a triple. Jeff Mandel allowed two earned runs in six innings on four hits and three walks, striking out six.
Wilmington 7, Potomac 0: The P-Nats managed two hits. Michael Taylor went 1 for 2 with a double and a walk.
Hagerstown was suspended.