The Washington Times - December 23, 2011, 08:57PM

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo just wrapped up a conference call with reporters about the now official six-player swap that brought left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez to Washington, along with minor league right-hander Rob Gilliam in exchange for catcher Derek Norris, right-handers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, and left-hander Tommy Milone. 

Here are the highlights:

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— The Nationals and A’s had been in talks for about a month regarding Gonzalez. Rizzo acknowledged such interest at the winter meetings but several things went into the Nationals stepping up their efforts and the A’s lowering their asking price — most importantly for Washington, their failed pursuit of free agent left-hander Mark Buehrle.

— Rizzo has been following Gonzalez for years and their relationship dates back to when Gonzalez was in high school in Miami.

— Rizzo said it was “fair to say” that one of Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan or Ross Detwiler could be expected to open the season in the Nationals’ bullpen.

— The Nationals are still looking for a center fielder, Rizzo said, noting that “if the right fit us for a center fielder, a long-term center fielder, came to us, we would certainly be aggressive and go after it,” but reiterated that the team still feels they have the candidates in-house with Jayson Werth able to play it.

— Asked point-blank if Adam LaRoche was set to be the Nationals’ first baseman for 2012, Rizzo said: “That’s correct.” Throwing, for the time being, some cold water on the Prince Fielder rumors that seem to insist on attaching themselves to Washington. 

— There is still no update on the condition of left-handed prospect Sammy Solis’ elbow soreness. Solis, who has visited with both the Nationals’ team doctors as well as renowned orthopedic surgeon Lewis Yocum about the soreness, is dealing with strep throat. Once he is healthy, he and the team will revisit the doctors and decide on a course of action. 

Here’s what Rizzo had to say about Gonzalez and the trade, and what it means for the Nationals’ pitching staff:

On what it means to add Gonzalez to the Nationals’ rotation, especially between Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann: 

“I think it means a lot for us. First of all, you get all of the prerequisites we had in this deal for this magnitude. He’s a young, power-throwing left-hander. He’s got plus-plus stuff. Being left-handed was really the key to this. We feel he matches up very nicely between our two power right-handers. With the left-handers in this division, I think it’s important to have at least a couple of left-handers in your rotation and a couple of left-handers in your bullpen because of the talented left-handed hitting players on the other teams.

“He brings a presence in our rotation. He’s had success. He’s been a workhorse. He’s very, very young. He just turned 26, has accomplished a lot of things before his 26th birthday and gives us a young corps of starting pitchers at the major-league level that really is in the realm of something we’ve never had here before. So we’re really pleased to have him.

“Of course, to acquire a player like this, you have to give up some painful players in return, and what we’ve done is just that. Four players that are near and dear to our hearts because we scouted them, drafted them, signed them and developed them. They were long-standing members of our organization, and they will be sorely missed. To get a 26-year-old, controllable, affordable, left-handed pitcher that’s pitched in All-Star Games and is at the peak of his career, it takes a bundle of good, talented players.”

On what Gonzalez brings as a pitcher and what he can do better:

“First of all, I think the changing of the leagues will positively affect his performance. We really like his peripheral numbers. You can look at he’s won a lot of games on a mediocre club, 16 wins on the Oakland A’s last year was quite a feat. He has a propensity to strike players out. He’s got swing-and-miss stuff. We see his walks trending in the right direction. We see him having general command, and we think as he progresses into his career, each and every year he’s going to progress on his command. We see him trending the right direction there.

“You’ve got a power left-handed pitcher there that stacks up with the best in Major League Baseball. We felt it was very important to get a left-handed pitcher. We like the kid’s stuff. We like his makeup a real lot. We’ve done a lot of work on this guy. I’ve known him since he was in high school in the Miami area, and this is a guy I’ve followed for years. Really like the way he competes. He’s an ultra-competitor. I call him, in a good way, a sore loser. He really takes defeats hard. He’s really matured in his approach to the game. He’s a student of the game. And his stuff, he’s got 90-95 mph fastball that will touch 96 at times, we’ve had him on Ppitch F/X up to that speed. He’s got a power breaking ball that he can throw in any count. He can throw it in the strike zone. He can throw it as a swing-and-miss pitch out of the strike zone. He’s got a very good changeup that he uses against right-handed hitters. And he’s got a moxie and an attitude on the mound that we like.

“He fits right in there. He separates our two right-handed pitchers, and we’ve got a power left-handed pitcher in this division because it’s such a difficult division. We felt we needed an upgrade with our upper-rotation guys, and this was the perfect formula for us.”

On how he sees his rotation at this point:

“We feel even with this trade we have great depth in the starting rotation. We’ve got Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler, John Lannan. We also have guys who can start and will compete for a starting job: Tom Gorzelanny, Craig Stammen. We know over the course of the season we’re going to need more than five starting pitchers. Everybody does. We feel we’re still very deep in starting pitching. We like the talent level of our starting pitching, and it’s going to be great competition to see who comes out of there as our starting five.”

On if it was difficult to give up some of their top-level minor league depth in Brad Peacock and Tommy Milone:

“I think we were protected there with major-league caliber pitching immediately at the major-league level. Don’t forget, we’ve got another wave of prospects coming that I think will at least equal and possibly surpass the package of guys we’ve given up in this trade, with the (Matt Purke) and (Sammy Solis) and (Alex Meyer)s of the world. Then we also have a wave behind them, the Robbie Rays and (Paul) Demnys and those type of guys. So we feel we’re set up very well for the long haul.

“Don’t forget we’ve got Strasburg at 23, Gio Gonzalez at 26 and Zimmermann at 25. Those guys are young, they’re not going anywhere. And Ross Detwiler is also 25 years old. So our core rotation is very young. And we’ve got great depth behind them on the major-league level, and we’ve got a wave of pitchers behind them and then even a further wave after that.”