Nats’ Gonzalez relying more on his change-up


Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez is 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA in three starts this season. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

While the two were working together during spring training, Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton noticed how effective pitcher Gio Gonzalez’s change-up could be.

It’s a pitch Gonzalez didn’t throw much until later last season, and he used it only in specific counts. Lobaton figured it could be the perfect complement to Gonzalez’s fastball and curveball.

“If he has a third pitch working, it’s going to be fun,” Lobaton said.

Lobaton suggested Gonzalez throw his change-up more, and Gonzalez agreed without hesitation.

“He’s the kind of guy that’s not afraid to throw anything,” Lobaton said.

According to fangraphs.com, Gonzalez has increased the use of his change-up, throwing it 12.9 percent of the time in his three starts. During the 2013 season, Gonzalez threw the pitch 10.3 percent of the time, and he hadn’t reached the 10 percent mark in the previous four seasons.

Gonzalez, who is scheduled to take the mound Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals, opened this season with two dominating wins against the Mets and Marlins. But he struggled against the Braves last Sunday, giving up six runs in the first two innings of a 10-2 loss.

Still, it’s apparent Gonzalez has added a weapon to his repertoire.

“[Lobaton] does a great job building that confidence to have me attack the strike zone, pounding it and making sure we mix it up with all three pitches,” Gonzalez said.

Lobaton, acquired by the Nationals in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in February, is sharing substitution duties with Sandy Leon after Wilson Ramos broke a bone in his left hand earlier this season.

The offseason move has paid off for Gonzalez, who has seemed comfortable with Lobaton behind the plate.

“It’s hard when you’re the new guy and you’re coming to a staff you don’t know,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “We’ve had a chance to get [Lobaton] with our main guys a lot during spring training. In a situation like we have with Wilson, we have someone accustomed to being back there every day.”

Lobaton isn’t sure why Gonzalez threw his change-up sparingly in the past. He’s just glad he noticed it before this season started.

“I knew when I saw it in spring training, I knew it was a good change-up,” Lobaton said. “Whatever I see, if it’s working, I’ll call it.”

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