The Nationals will take the field on Monday in San Francisco for NLDs Game 3, needing one more win to keep their season alive. From the dugout, Gio Gonzalez can only watch. His job is to pitch Game 4 on Tuesday should the Nationals and Doug Fister win on Monday. Gonzalez hasn’t pitched in a game in 12 days, but he is optimistic he will get his chance.
“We’re looking positive now with Doug Fister on the mound and feeling very confident in [Monday’s] game,” Gonzalez said. “Especially with the excitement and the energy that he brings, not only on the mound but to the other players; that they want to play hard for him. That’s the great thing about having Doug Fister on this team is that he contributes so much, and now to have him pitch today, especially against [Madison] Bumgarner, this is the match-up we definitely want to have right now, especially trying to go into Game 4.”
Two years ago, in the Nationals’ first postseason appearance, Gonzalez was the Game 1 starter. He was a 21-game winner that season and the Nationals had shut down Stephen Strasburg. The rotation is deeper and more talented now, and Gonzalez won’t be an option until Game 4, behind Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Fister.
Gonzalez, the lone left-hander in Washington’s rotation, would be a good match-up for the Giants. He is 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA in seven career starts against them. The Giants feature a left-handed-heavy lineup. They posted only a .708 OPS against southpaws this season, good for 17th in baseball.
Gonzalez has stayed active since his last start on Sept. 25. He finished his trying season strong, posting a 2.36 ERA over his final seven starts. He pitched in the Nationals’ intrasquad on Wednesday in Washington. He was in the bullpen late in Game 2, the 18-inning marathon, ready to pitch after Tanner Roark if needed.
“If that game would have continued to maybe 30 innings, I probably would have made an appearance,” Gonzalez said.
In some ways, Gonzalez is better equipped to handle a potential Game 4 start now than before. He is an emotional pitcher and doesn’t shy away from showing how he feels during games (see: his start in Oakland where he yelled at teammates or his late-season start in which he was visibly upset at Manager Matt Williams for removing him). In his two playoff starts, the enormity of the situation also ate at Gonzalez. He allowed two runs in 2012 NLDS Game 1 but walked seven. He had a 6-0 lead in Game 5 of that series and walked four, eventually allowing three runs.
During the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Gonzalez pitched for Team USA and his pitching coach was Greg Maddux. Gonzalez credits Maddux with giving him tips on how to simplify the game during high-pressure situations. Gonzalez can lean on that on Tuesday.
“Definitely going to be some emotion,” he said. “There’s going to be some excitement. You get a double play, obviously there’s going to be some emotion to that but it’s also staying professional as much as possible. In my career and my time playing, I definitely want to stay as much composed and relaxed as possible. Picking up from other pitchers, that’s the beauty about being a pitcher on the side, watching other people’s emotions and the way they go about it, the way they compete, and just staying low‑key and professional as much as possible.”