Washington Nationals: Gio Gonzalez’s Role Up For Grabs
After a rocky 2016, Washington Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez will have to earn his spot in the starting rotation next spring. Surprised?
“I would not describe him as expendable at all. To me, he’s a reliable starter that takes the mound every five days, and those guys are worth their weight in gold.”
Considering the Nats picked up Gonzalez’s $12 million option next year, Rizzo’s kind words are not a surprise. Gonzalez has been a starter all three seasons when the Nationals made the postseason, including his 21-win effort in 2012.
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An off 2015 and a bad 2016 and playoff start has the Nationals looking at other options. With six pitchers potentially auditioning for the two slots after Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark, there are no guarantees.
Aside from Gonzalez, Joe Ross, A.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and pure rookie Austin Voth will earn long looks next March in West Palm Springs. Voth, pitching this offseason in the Arizona Fall League, is playing well. Ross pitched well last year off an injury and the others split time between the big club and Triple-A Syracuse.
The reason Gonzalez is in a fight for his job is simple. Since his masterful 2012, the ERA increased every season. Last year, it ballooned to a whopping 4.57. The first time the mark rose above four with over 100 innings pitched. Forget his 11-11 record, instead watch his slumping shoulders and lost look. His confidence is sagging.
For a team with World Series aspirations, Gonzalez pitched older last year than his 31 years. Yes, he starts over 30 games a year and gives the Nats slightly under six innings a start, but there is nothing in the box score that insures he breaks camp as the fifth starter.
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Ross, unless something incredible comes from him or one of the kids, will be the fourth starter come April. If he can get his work in and become more efficient on his pitch count, his place is set. Gonzalez has no assurances. Spring Training, often just a way to get loose and wind sprints, becomes a proving ground for the veteran.
As four hungry pitchers do what they can to avoid another spring on Syracuse’s icy Lake Ontario, Gonzalez needs to cast aside his internal doubts and pitch to their level of ambition. His contract is tradable. A four-starter on most clubs, he has value.
With the inevitable injuries that a starting staff finds, Gonzalez will get his turn in the rotation. Whether that is the case in April, as Rizzo hints, depends on what Gonzalez can produce.
A free agent after 2017, he has plenty of motivation.