Gonzalez: Award a way to thank Nationals GM Rizzo

Gio Gonzalez got bounced around a lot early in his career before
eventually winding up with a home in Washington.

Constantly involved in trades between playoff contenders,
Gonzalez was grateful when Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo
acquired him from Oakland and then signed him to a five-year, $42
million contract before last season.

He hopes some of that gratitude showed Thursday when he picked
up the Warren Spahn Award as baseball’s top left-handed
pitcher.

”When he picked me up and traded for me, he didn’t question
anything I had – none of my abilities. He just said, `Let’s get him
a contract. Let’s keep him here. We want him.’ That to me meant all
the world to me,” Gonzalez said.

”It felt like I needed to prove something not to him, but to
represent him very proudly. This is my way of saying, `Thank you’
and proving to whoever doubted the situation or any of my
abilities.”

Gonzalez finished the season with a 21-8 record, a 2.89 ERA and
207 strikeouts to win the award that is decided purely on
statistics. It is named after Warren Spahn, the top-winning lefty
in baseball history.

”There’s already one best lefty in baseball, and that’s Warren
Spahn,” ”I think to follow in those footsteps, it’s an
honor.”

Gonzalez hopes the award isn’t the last time he’s associated
with Spahn. He broke into the majors with Oakland in 2008 and has
improved his win total, ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio in each
season so far.

”His career got better as he got older,” Gonzalez said. ”He
won all those trophies: a 17-time All-Star, 363 wins. And remember,
he’s also a war vet, also a Purple Heart. There’s so much history
about the man. I would love to walk in those shoes.

”It’s hard to fill them up but I would love to walk right
behind him.”

Gonzalez finished third in voting for the National League Cy
Young Award, behind R.A. Dickey and fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw was the 2011 winner of the Cy Young and the Spahn
Award.

David Price, the 2010 Spahn Award winner, was this year’s AL Cy
Young winner.

”I think that’s the ultimate goal as a left-handed pitcher to
reach. A Cy Young is beautiful but a Warren Spahn is just as
nice,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez was the Game 1 starter for the Nationals in the NL
division series after Stephen Strasburg was shut down late in the
season. Washington was eliminated in five games – squandering a
two-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 5 – after a celebrated
season that brought playoff baseball back to the nation’s capital
for the first time in decades.

”We had such great guys,” Gonzalez said. ”Our rotation was
unbelievable, our offense was incredible. Our defense, a couple of
Gold Gloves. A couple of Silver Sluggers. I think our team numbers
proved it. We had the Rookie of the Year. We had a bunch of guys
that won so many awards.

”This, to me, was the icing on the cake.”