Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez is making a strong case to start the All-Star Game for the National League on July 10 in Kansas City.
Gonzalez, who'll make his 10th start of the season Sunday in Atlanta, has six wins and a single loss over the first quarter of the season, with a 1.98 ERA and 69 strikeouts in just under 542?3 innings of work. The good news doesn't stop there, though. Opponents have a batting average of just .167 against him, and he has a WHIP of 0.99. Keep in mind that the rap on Gonzalez in Oakland was his propensity to walk an average of more than four batters per nine innings. He's cut that rate down, too. He's not been perfect, but he's darn close.
It would be silly to project Gonzalez as a 20-game winner at this juncture. Twenty-game winners are few and far between these days. Most starters get 32 or 33 opportunities during a 162-game season, and there are always no-decisions -- Gonzalez already has two. But he's compiled his 2012 numbers for a club that's been missing offensive personnel, an All-Star caliber season seems within reach.
How big would it be for a Washington pitcher to get the start in an All-Star Game? The last time it happened was 50 years ago. Between 1959 and 1962 major league baseball scheduled two All-Star Games. (The second game was meant to enhance the player's pension fund, something totally unnecessary today.) The first game in 1962 was played July?10 at brand-new D.C. Stadium, with President Kennedy throwing out the first ball. The lone Washington representative, right-handed pitcher Dave Stenhouse, didn't get into the game, much to the disappointment of the hometown fans. Twenty days later, the second game was played at Chicago's Wrigley Field and Stenhouse got the start.
Stenhouse had been acquired from the Reds at the 1961 winter meetings, and when he took the mound that day he had a record of 10-4 with a 2.73 ERA. He featured a knuckle-curve as an out pitch and only found out he was starting on the team bus from the hotel to the ballpark that morning.
Stenhouse pitched two innings, allowing a single run on three hits with a walk and a strikeout of Roberto Clemente. It was the highlight of his short career. After that appearance, he went 1-8 the rest of the season to finish 11-12. He was out of the major leagues by age 30.
Gonzalez has already had an impressive early career and was an All-Star with Oakland last year, pitching 1?3 inning in a 5-1 AL loss. Getting an All-Star start in his first NL season would go a long way toward becoming a household name. He'll likely have eight or nine additional starts before NL All-Star skipper Tony LaRussa picks his pitching staff.
I wouldn't bet against him.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.