Gon­za­lez makes case for third All-Star Game nod

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

Stand­ing at his locker Mon­day, Gio Gon­za­lez wasn’t about to en­ter­tain the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing named an All-Star. MLB will an­nounce the full ros­ters for the July 11 All-Star Game in Mi­ami on Sun­day, and the Na­tion­als pitcher, who is in a po­si­tion to make his third ap­pear­ance, was fo­cused in­stead on what he needs to im­prove on while he’s on the mound.

Like the home run he gave up to the open­ing bat­ter in the Na­tion­als’ 5-4 loss Mon­day to the Cubs.

“Right now, I’m just try­ing to fo­cus on that one mis­take pitch and turn the page from there. To­day, I have to worry about what I could have done bet­ter to keep my­self strong in the game,” he said.

Gon­za­lez, though, has made a solid case for join­ing what will likely be a strong con­tin­gent of Na­tion­als in Mi­ami.

The 31-year-old vet­eran has a Wins Above Re­place­ment (WAR) of 2.9 this sea­son, mean­ing the Na­tion­als have been 2.9 wins bet­ter with Gon­za­lez than a player guar­an­teed to be on a min­i­mum con­tract. It’s Gon­za­lez’s best since 2013 and ranks fifth in the Na­tional League among pitch­ers.

He also has a ca­reer-low 2.87 ERA, third best among starters in the NL and sev­enth in the league.

There’s an in­ten­sity to the way Gon­za­lez is ap­proach­ing starts in 2017. He’s fourth in the Na­tional League in walks and isn’t afraid to use his arm. In 16 games, Gon­za­lez has thrown for 1,688 pitches to­tal in 1001⁄3 in­nings. By com­par­i­son, Max Scherzer has thrown 1,617 in 1072⁄3 in­nings and Stephen Stras­burg has thrown 1,556 in 952⁄3 in­nings.

The way he pitches, he of­ten finds him­self in jams that he has to fight his way out of. It doesn’t al­ways work.

There was a per­fect ex­am­ple Mon­day. On a 3-1 count to Cubs catcher Wilson Con­tr­eras, Gon­za­lez threw a four-seam fast­ball in the bot­tom of the strike zone only to see Con­tr­eras clock a home run. Gon­za­lez also walked five bat­ters.

But more of­ten this sea­son, Gon­za­lez has made a habit of re­cov­er­ing from tight sit­u­a­tions. He al­lowed only one hit fol­low­ing Con­tr­eras’ homer. By the time his night was over after the sixth in­ning, he had thrown 113 pitches.

“It’s been fun to watch,” Na­tion­als first base­man Ryan Zim­mer­man said. “The way he’s come back, the way he’s pitch­ing to con­tact, com­ing after peo­ple. (Mon­day was) no dif­fer­ent than what he’s done all year. He puts a lot of pres­sure on the guys, throws a lot of strikes. And when that curve­ball’s work­ing, he’s tough to face.”

With the All-Star con­test in his home­town of Mi­ami, be­ing se­lected would mean a lot to Gon­za­lez.

He was pre­vi­ously se­lected in 2011 and 2012. He was traded to the Na­tion­als from the Oak­land Ath­let­ics in De­cem­ber 2011 and signed a con­tract ex­ten­sion with the Na­tion­als that same win­ter.

On Mon­day, Gon­za­lez struck out his 1,500th bat­ter. “His out­ing was good,” man­ager Dusty Baker said. “He threw a lot of pitches, but you know other than that first (bat­ter) home run ... he threw the ball well against some very tough hit­ters over there and he gave us a great chance to win.”

With Gon­za­lez, Baker has been say­ing a vari­a­tion of that quote all sea­son.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als pitcher Gio Gon­za­lez has a ca­reer-low 2.87 earned run aver­age, third best among NL starters.

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