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Gonzalez takes command for Nationals

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Kevin Dunleavy
Reduction in walks is big factor in good start

For a pitcher, leading the majors in walks isn't the disgrace it used to be.

In 2011, the distinction belonged to Gio Gonzalez, who had 91 to go along with his 16-12 record and a 3.12 ERA. The year before, Gonzalez issued 92 bases on balls and managed to go 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA.

This offseason, the Washington Nationals didn't hold Gonzalez's walk totals against him, parting with four prospects, including control pitchers Tom Milone and Brad Peacock, to secure his services from the Oakland A's.

UP NEXT
Nationals at Padres
Gio Gonzalez (1-0)
vs. Clayton Richard (1-1)
When » Tuesday, 10:05 p.m.
Where » Petco Park, San Diego
TV » MASN2

So far, the move has paid dividends. The Nats (12-4) have won all three of Gonzalez's starts and will try to make it 4-for-4 Tuesday night at San Diego (5-12) as the Nats open a six-game West Coast trip. Left-hander Clayton Richard (1-1) goes for the Padres.

It's as good a start as the Nationals could have hoped for from the 26-year-old Gonzalez, who pitches on a full week of rest following his domination of Houston last Tuesday. After a rough debut in Chicago, Gonzalez has been untouchable in two starts, yielding four hits, two walks and no runs while fanning 15 in 14 innings.

"Nasty," teammate Jayson Werth said of Gonzalez's most recent work. "His ball was moving all over the place."

But "all over the place" has often been the problem for the left-hander. In starts in which Gonzalez has walked two or fewer batters, he has a 24-10 record. When walking three or four, he is 14-15. When walking five or more, he is 1-7.

When the Nats acquired Gonzalez, general manager Mike Rizzo said his walk totals were trending in the right direction and could be pared further with the aggressive approach preached by manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty.

"Just turning 26 years old and not being in the league very long, we thought this guy had some upside and ability to cut back on his walks," Rizzo said Monday on ESPN 980. "In this league, we thought he would pound the strike zone much more often and trust his stuff a lot more."

Another new mantra for Gonzalez is "pitch count." More strikes mean fewer pitches. In his last two starts, both lasting seven innings, Gonzales has thrown fewer than 100 pitches. Last year, Gonzalez threw at least 100 pitches in 27 of 32 starts, only four of which exceeded seven innings.

"The whole point of going out there is trying to stay the distance and trying to keep the pitch count down," Gonzalez said. "It's a big key for me."

In 92 career starts, Gonzalez has one complete game. But with his new approach -- and with the prodding of McCatty -- don't be surprised if Gonzalez matches the feat of another formerly wild Nats starter, Edwin Jackson, who threw a 92-pitch complete game earlier this season.

"They're being aggressive. Hey, throw the ball over the plate. Don't try to walk too many guys," McCatty said. "They've just gone out and gone after hitters."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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