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Gon' with the wind? Gio looks like old self

Strong spring performance has Nationals lefty, Baker seeing visions of 21-win 2012
Special to MLB.com

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker is confident that Gio Gonzalez has a 20-win season still left in him, and Gonzalez is bent on not letting down his manager.

Gonzalez was a 21-game winner in 2012, his first year with Washington, when he posted a sparkling 2.89 ERA. Gonzalez, however, has not won more than 11 games in a season since. The 31-year-old left-hander is coming off his worst season, statistically, with the Nationals, going 11-11 with a 4.57 ERA in 32 starts. That's the highest ERA he's had in a season since 2009, when he was with the Oakland A's.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker is confident that Gio Gonzalez has a 20-win season still left in him, and Gonzalez is bent on not letting down his manager.

Gonzalez was a 21-game winner in 2012, his first year with Washington, when he posted a sparkling 2.89 ERA. Gonzalez, however, has not won more than 11 games in a season since. The 31-year-old left-hander is coming off his worst season, statistically, with the Nationals, going 11-11 with a 4.57 ERA in 32 starts. That's the highest ERA he's had in a season since 2009, when he was with the Oakland A's.

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"I know Gio is better than a .500 pitcher," Baker said. "He's won 21. If you can win 21, you can win 22. The hard part is doing it the first time. We've got to get him back to that confidence because he had to have supreme confidence when he won 21."

Video: BOS@WSH: Gio Gonzalez talks about the upcoming year

If his performance so far this spring is an indication, Gonzalez seems to be regaining the confidence that Baker alluded to Friday, prior to the Nationals' game against the visiting Cardinals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Gonzalez turned in another solid outing despite the Nationals' 7-1 loss. Most of the Cardinals' damage came after Gonzalez had finished his day, in which he allowed only one run -- his first this spring. The Cards loaded the bases with one out in the third inning and scored on a sacrifice fly, but Gonzalez was able to pitch out of the jam by retiring Stephen Piscotty on his fourth strikeout of the outing.

"Gio minimized the damage in that inning," Baker said. "Gio's been very good this spring."

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Gonzalez said that having to deal with those kind of situations in Spring Training is a learning experience that hopefully he will carry over into the regular season.

"You put yourself in a situation that hopefully you don't have to go through during the season, but when it comes down to it at least you know the situation," Gonzalez said. "I had some pitches I was working on that I liked and got good results out of it. All in all, I take it as a positive outing."

Gonzalez said that he's been working harder and trying to increase his strength this spring and appreciates the backing he has from the organization, which picked up the $12 million vesting option on his contract during the offseason. He also is grateful for the encouragement from Baker.

Video: WSH@STL: Gonzalez goes three scoreless against Cards

"I can believe everything Dusty says," Gonzalez said. "When your manager is saying that, that says a lot. I've always held that to heart, not only playing for this team, but you also want to show skip that you're here to stay and you're here to play. It's a good thing he believes the same way I believe, and I want to be a part of something pretty big with this organization and I'm hoping that this year I get to prove that right."

Baker knows that Gonzalez badly wants to return to the form he flashed a few years ago.

"He's worked hard. He wants it," Baker said. "We need him, we need him badly. I know everybody's hollering, 'Trade Gio, trade Gio,' but we just know that there's something there that we haven't tapped in a while."

Steve Dorsey is a contributor to MLB.com.

Washington Nationals, Gio Gonzalez