WASHINGTON -- Gio Gonzalez was the Nationals' best pitcher during the regular season, winning 21 games and striking out 207 batters. So it's fitting the left-hander will start Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on TBS) against the Cardinals.
Gonzalez was humble when talking about pitching in the first postseason game by a Washington-based team since 1933.
"It means a lot, especially with the great rotation that we have. Some guys [in the rotation] could easily be it, and deserve it," he said. "I'm even grateful to be even mentioned in that conversation. [The Nationals] feel they want me to be out there in the first one. I'm going to give it all I got. I'm going to make sure they made the right decision."
Gonzalez last pitched on Sept. 27 against the Phillies. He was scheduled to pitch this past Tuesday against Philadelphia, but after winning the NL East title the previous day, manager Davey Johnson decided to rest Gonzalez so he could be ready for the postseason. Gonzalez and pitching coach Steve McCatty already have a game plan on how to prepare for the first postseason game.
"I was telling Cat that I need to throw, still need to stay in shape, still stay where I need to be, and he understood that 100 percent," Gonzalez said. "This is a learning curve for me, so I need to know how to prepare myself for something like this. Someway, somehow, I'll find it and try to figure it out."
This postseason will Gonzalez's first, and he plans to seek advice from teammates such as Edwin Jackson and Mike Gonzalez, who have postseason experience. McCatty, who had playoff experience with the Athletics in the early 1980s, said there is nothing Gio has to change. He believes Gonzalez simply needs to be himself and treat the NLDS like a regular-season game.
"It's like I tell him all the time, 'Relax, control [the game] in your brain and have fun,'" McCatty said. "We all know the pressure and everything that goes with a postseason game, but you almost have to treat it like it's another game. You can't let your emotions take over, because you can start speeding up, you start rushing and stuff like that. You just have to breathe, relax, [and] you can just focus on making your pitches."
McCatty said Gonzalez is a different pitcher than the one who pitched for the Athletics the previous two years. The most glaring stat that pops up are the walks, which are down. While he was in Oakland, Gonzalez would get a lot of strikeouts, but he would throw a lot of pitches.
As a member of the Nats, Gonzalez has learned to use his fastball from both sides of the plate. In addition to getting plenty of strikeouts, he also gets a lot of weak contact from opposing hitters, which allows him to go deep into games.
"He is more mature. He has slowed down a little bit and not going 500 mph. He has grown up," McCatty said. "I think he is always relaxed, but he has that quick motor. ... He trusts himself and he probably realizes, too, that he could throw more strikes and not have to walk as many people."
Gonzalez also plans to seek advice from his parents. It was his father, Max, who taught him the game. According to Gio, the Nationals have treated his family very well -- another reason he wants to win so badly in the postseason.
"If it was up to me, I would bring my whole entire family [to the postseason], Gio said. "I wish I could take my entire family, but this team has literally welcomed my parents with open arms. The day I won my 20th game, there was a toast in the locker room in front of my dad, in front of my brother. So when you see the kind of chemistry that we have, it makes it all that much sweeter to go out there to win and compete for these guys."