Nationals' Gonzalez could reach 20 wins Sunday

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Lefty would be the first in majors to hit mark

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez is on the verge of a milestone. He will take the mound Sunday against the Atlanta Braves with a chance to become the first 20-game winner in the majors this season.

The upbeat left-hander has been everything Washington hoped for when it traded four prospects to Oakland last winter for Gonzalez, hoping he could stabilize a starting rotation that had several holes. After a strong stretch, Gonzalez has put himself in the National League Cy Young Award race. He is 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA.

Only four NL pitchers have a better ERA this season, and Gonzalez outpitched one of them, the New York Mets' R.A. Dickey, this week. Not that he remotely wants to think about any of this.

"Not really. Like I said, one game at a time," Gonzalez said last week. "Just continue to go out there and try to pound the strike zone and try to get some more wins for these guys. Individual stuff is nice, but all said and done it's a team thing, and I want to win it for them."

Gonzalez, 26, has deflected virtually all questions about his personal success this season. It's a departure for a gregarious personality whom teammates credit with keeping the clubhouse loose when he's not pitching. He's a quotable presence on most topics -- just not himself.

The last Washington pitcher to win at least 20 games was Bob Porterfield, who went 22-10 for the Senators in 1953. The only pitcher for the franchise to hit the mark was Ross Grimsley, who finished 20-11 for the Expos in 1978.

Winning 20 games is not really an accomplishment a pitcher controls on his own, of course. But Gonzalez has done his part to put himself in this position with 191 strikeouts, eighth overall in the majors, and 68 walks, a lower pace than in 2010 (92) and 2011 (91).

"[Winning 20] is tough," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "You got to pitch consistently real good deep into the game, which he does. But you also have to have a good offense, a good bullpen. And we have all those things."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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