WASHINGTON -- There are umpteen reasons why the Nationals might be wary starting Gio Gonzalez in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday (MLB Network, 4 p.m. ET).There is Gonzalez's 4.57 ERA, the highest of any full season in his career. There is the fact that the
WASHINGTON -- There are umpteen reasons why the Nationals might be wary starting Gio Gonzalez in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Monday (MLB Network, 4 p.m. ET).
There is Gonzalez's 4.57 ERA, the highest of any full season in his career. There is the fact that the Nationals went 14-18 in games Gonzalez started. There is the left-hander's 8.31 ERA in three losses to end the regular season.
But given the injury that knocked Stephen Strasburg out of the Nats' NLDS rotation, and the one that kept Joe Ross limited down the stretch, Gonzalez was Washington's clear No. 3 starter heading into the postseason. The club's success will depend upon how he fares in Los Angeles, where Gonzalez should be the most-rested National heading into a key Game 3 after the Nats evened the series. He flew ahead of his teammates due to Saturday's postponement, which eliminated Sunday's travel day.
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"This is what everybody wants to do is play in the postseason, and I'm having an opportunity to actually pitch in it," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to enjoy this moment."
This is not Gonzalez's initial flirtation with October baseball. When the Nationals qualified for their first postseason in 2012, he was one of their top rotation options, leading the NL with 21 wins while posting a 2.89 ERA. But Gonzalez has regressed every year since, with his ERA climbing steadily: 3.36, 3.57, 3.79, 4.57. Now 31 years old, Gonzalez has lost more than 2 mph off a fastball that once rested comfortably in the mid-90s. Hitters have feasted on it, batting a combined .290 off his four- and two-seamers.
But Gonzalez also enjoyed a string of success as recently as August, going 4-0 with a 3.58 ERA that month. His best stretch of the season came from Opening Day through May 18, when he went 3-1 with a 1.86 mark. Gonzalez simply has not been able to maintain it.
"It's not something I want to sit back and reflect on," Gonzalez said. "I want to talk about now, which is October. It's playoff time, so this is the time you need to turn it on and get ready to go. If they need me to pitch against the Dodgers, then I'm going to pitch against the Dodgers."
Gonzalez will do so following only a slight change in schedule. Rather than take the team charter to Los Angeles, he flew west while his teammates played in Game 2 on Sunday. That allowed Gonzalez to settle into the team hotel for a full night's rest, unlike his teammates, who were not due into L.A. until late at night.
Once Gonzalez's alarm clock sounds, he'll face a lineup filled with platoon hitters. One of Gonzalez's better starts of the season came against the Dodgers, whom he held to one run on three hits in six innings of a July 20 victory. And he has historically limited some of Los Angeles' top right-handed bats, including Howie Kendrick (5-for-23), Justin Turner (2-for-19) and Yasiel Puig (1-for-11), to low averages.
Drawing on that success may be Gonzalez's best chance at turning around his season in October, even if he has little interest in recent history.
"October 2 was the last time I thought about [the regular season]," Gonzalez said. "This is the playoffs now. That's over with."
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.