Whether or not you think the World Baseball Classic is a worthwhile event, there absolutely is value to it. And that’s not just because some countries take the international tournament incredibly seriously, and the players in it obviously do, too. But in chatting with both Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez about their experience, both described how playing on Team USA has been a valuable learning experience, too.
What Gonzalez had to say about battling his own nerves while on the mound in Marlins Park, before his home crowd and in the opening game of the second round, was most interesting. Gonzalez knew he was too jittery and nervous for the game, an anxious excitement. In last year’s playoffs, he admitted on Tuesday night, he didn’t block out enough of the noise and pressure while he pitched. So before his start against Puerto Rico, he sought out pitching legend Greg Maddux, Team USA’s pitching coach, for advice.
“‘How can I tunnel that, the noise and everything,’ and he just broke it down to something simple,” Gonzalez said. “‘Think of fielding a routine groundball and just fishing or something, just take your mind off of it.’ And I understood it immediately where it was almost to the point where it was just like make that small adjustment, just tune it out, just think of something real simple and try to pound the strike zone.”
That simple mental trick did wonders for Gonzalez on Tuesday, as he carved up Puerto Rico over five scoreless innings in the 7-1 win. During the game, Gonzalez even told Team USA Manager Joe Torre to smile, an attempt to keep his attention away from the nerves.
“It’s something I did with Davey [Johnson] a lot, that’s what he did, just kept me loose and tried not to put too much pressure,” Gonzalez said. “I know from experience in the postseason, I was overwhelmed by all the noise and stuff like that. But now I look at it and try to do the same thing, what Greg did, take that away and try to minimize it and think of something so simple that can help you tune it out.”
Detwiler handed the pressure of his lone playoff start well last season, and in his strong WBC performance on Saturday, too. Spending over a week with Maddux and other major league all-stars, Detwiler has also picked up a few tips.
“Especially with pitchers, or with the catcher, we’re always sitting on the side talking about pitch selection and guys they faced in the past and how they go about attacking people,” he said. “It’s kind of tough because you don’t want to divulge all your information, but you also want to get a little better … [Maddux] says a lot of the same things [Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty] does, just in a different way. So it’s another perspective and I don’t want to discredit Cat at all, but I think I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here.”
So, regardless of your views on the value of the event, these two players have found the experience of pitching for their country not only unforgettable but valuable for when they return to the Nationals.
FROM THE POST
The longer story on Gonzalez’s start, and his and Detwiler’s experience so far in the event. (Read: they loved it.)
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
The Nationals have their first split squad action of the spring. Davey Johnson and the main starters won’t travel, and Jordan Zimmermann starts against the New York Mets at home. Ross Ohlendorf will hit the road and start in Kissimmee against the Houston Astros. No lineups yet.
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY