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As curveball eludes him, Gonzalez’s pitch counts soar

Aug 17, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

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Gio Gonzalez has never been the most efficient pitcher in the league, but his inefficiency has reached new depths this season, especially in the last month.

The left-hander’s latest laborious outing: Last night’s 5-inning slog, in which he threw 102 pitches. This, on the heels of a 111-pitch, 4 2/3-inning start in Atlanta.

Do the math: Yep, combine those two starts and Gonzalez has now thrown 213 pitches over his last 9 2/3 innings. The strange part: He has given up only five runs in that span, hardly a ridiculously high total.

“Yeah, that’s the tough breaks,” he said after last night’s game. “You’ve just got to keep battling through it. … The times you go out there and attack the strike zone, it’s just, little did you know, you get 25 pitches in the first inning. There are some guys who are going to battle you for 10 pitches, 12 pitches. And that’s just how my luck’s been going. They’re fouling off 94 [mph], letter-high. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to bounce back and hit the bottom of the strike zone. When you make that adjustment, they put it in play.”

There has perhaps been some element of bad luck at play for Gonzalez, whose Fielding Independent Pitching mark of 3.10 is far better than his 4.06 ERA.

But there’s no denying the fact that Gonzalez is throwing more pitches now than anytime in his recent career. In his final two seasons in Oakland (2010-11), he averaged 16.8 pitches per inning. Then in his 21-win debut season in Washington in 2012, that average dropped to 16.0, the best mark of his career.

It’s been going up ever since. Gonzalez averaged 16.9 pitches per inning last season, when he posted a solid 3.36 ERA. This year, that average has skyrocketed to 17.3.

The biggest problem? Manager Matt Williams believe it is Gonzalez’s inability to throw strikes with his curveball, his go-to pitch throughout his career.

“If he doesn’t have it, the other team can just eliminate it from their thought process,” Williams said. “It makes it more difficult for him to get guys out.”

Gonzalez hasn’t been able to figure out why that pitch has eluded him this year.

“It’s just trying to find a feel for it,” he said. “And so far, it’s just … I’ve got to keep working at it. Maybe something will click. It’s just one of those pitches that … you’ve got to get that touch-and-feel in the back of your head. Just: ‘Oh, there it is. That’s what you wanted.’ But so far, it lands for a strike, and then it just has no clue where it’s going.”

Gonzalez, who missed a month earlier this season with inflammation in his shoulder, insists his arm is healthy.

“He feels good,” Williams said. “His velocity is good. He’s complained of no pain or anything. It’s just a question of command, and the curveball’s important for him. He’ll address it with [pitching coach Steve McCatty] again and look for that arm slot, and hopefully next time out, he finds it early.”

  1. stoatva - Aug 17, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    This is just Gio being Gio, only more so.

    Only I don’t see how if he fits into a four man pitching rotation for the playoffs. And I have a hard time picturing him coming out of the bullpen in October. So what then?

  2. NatsLady - Aug 17, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Gio was clearly trying to change his approach. He was working fast, no dawdling, not much muttering to himself. The Fister influence, I guess. I’m hoping he’ll work it out, because when he’s good, he’s REALLY good.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

      I disagree with the “no dawdling” part. I caught him between pitches in the fourth inning, looking like he’d forgotten there was a ball game going on.

      • NatsLady - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        LOL. Maybe the third inning threw him back into his usual habits.

  3. Section 222 - Aug 17, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    Just saw another replay of the Ramos walkoff. Polanco really didn’t play that ball well. He seemed to get a decent jump, but showed down and his feet got a little tangled. His leap looked kind of half hearted. Would have been interesting if he had caught the ball. Bryce would have tagged and that would have brought up Danny with one out and a man on third. Wonder if they would have brought in a righty to turn him around. And would MW have countered by PH’ing Cabrera?

    Luckily we’ll never know how that would have turned out.

  4. coop202 - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    He was electric for a bit earlier this summer – need that one back for a deep run even if roark sticks around and he heads to the pen.

    Think the braves have one last win streak in them. Keep it up fellas

    • rayvil01 - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      “Think the braves have one last win streak in them. Keep it up fellas”

      I agree. Their bats are warming up. There will be a losing streak on the back side of it though. Important to keep winning.

      • realdealnats - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:18 PM

        The fact that they just took two from Oakland has my attention whether they actually put a run at us together or not. Ramos’ walkoff must have been a real dagger for the Braves. I imagine them thinking okay here we beat the As again and geez what do we have to do to gain a game on these guys, they were down 3-0 in the 8th!

      • masterfishkeeper - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:24 PM

        Oakland’s been pretty ordinary since the All-Star break. May be just a small sample size, but maybe not:

        http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/50686/athletics-need-to-be-worried-for-stretch-run

    • coop202 - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      So have a lot of teams that swept the braves. Just saying that their season split favors two stretches of 90+ win baseball (17-7 and 40-33) followed by horrid stretches which skew their Pythagorean numbers. Would expect more of the former

  5. natsguy - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    He’s moved from “grinding” to “battling”. Bad is bad lets just call it that.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    Streaks — theirs and ours — are what we have to worry about. I think ATL is only five behind in the loss column. It’s very easy to say they have play .6XX ball to catch us and isn’t that unlikely . . .. It’s only going to take a five-game winning streak on their part, at the wrong time, to lead to a scarily tight run to the finish. Plus the remaining six games w/ Atlanta and who on this blog would bet on them winning fewer than four of them? I remember 2012 too well, when the Nats had a comfortable lead with a couple of weeks to go and Atlanta just refused to lose while the Nats played .500 ball.

    • kgwcoach - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      7 in loss column the 5 is in the win column

    • Section 222 - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:36 PM

      I remember 2012 well too. We won the division, didn’t we?

      The thing is, the Braves don’t have the pitching they had in 2012, or last year. They have Freddie Freeman and Kimbrel. Other than that, they just aren’t a scary team anymore.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 17, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        True, they are under .500 if you remove the Nats W/L. If only the Nats figured out they’re as easy as the Mets.

    • David Proctor - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      ATL is 7 back in the loss column

    • NatsLady - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      No, Atlanta is seven behind in the loss column. We have 53 losses, they have 60. They’ve played 123 games, we’ve played 121.

      The go to Pittsburgh next, McCutchen should be back on Tuesday. Then they have an off-day, and go to Cincinnati. The Reds are 3 back in the NL Wild Card, so I’m sure they don’t consider themselves out of it.

  7. Doc - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    I’ll defer to Fangraphs on certifying Gio’s FB speed, but I don’t think there were too many, if any, 94 mph pitches.

    Speed has definitely has not returned to pre-DL stint.

  8. stoatva - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    My least favorite postseason scenario to consider is: the Nats in a five game series against the wild card Braves. Or Cardinals.

    • 6ID20 - Aug 17, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      How about World Series against the O’s?

  9. npb99 - Aug 17, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    Despite Mark’s argument, pitches per inning doesn’t seem to be a very meaningful stat for Gio. In his great 2012 season he average 16.0 pitches per inning, and in this disappointing year, “skyrocketed to” 17.3. But really not that much of a difference.

    • Doc - Aug 17, 2014 at 1:36 PM

      Agreed, npb99; the differences are not likely to be statistically significant.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 17, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        You’re wrong, it’s gotten worse since the All Star break.

  10. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 17, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    I don’t know Mark Z. Someone kept saying Gio is injured since he wasn’t throwing the curve much and another said his pitch count was high due to hits. Sure, hits raises your batters per inning raising pitch count unless you get some doubleplay balls and caught stealing and if that was the case wouldn’t all pitchers have Gios problems as there aren’t many pitchers throwing no hitters.

    Gio can’t put away hitters quickly. Too much nibbling and too many deep counts. Attack attack attack

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