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Gio Gonzalez makes himself at home with D.C. blitz

Left-hander eager to start first season with Washington

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Washington Nationals' newest horse spent the past few days getting acquainted with his new city.

Gio Gonzalez, a Miami native and left-handed pitcher, has done a tour de force of Washington with his parents, cousins and brother in tow. From running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial "like Rocky" to rooting on the Capitals as they beat the Boston Bruins to seeing the sights and getting a tour of the Nationals' facilities from Jayson Werth, Gonzalez has taken time to make himself at home.

But until he stood on the podium in the bowels of Nationals Park on Wednesday and buttoned up his freshly starched new jersey, it didn't fully set in.

"Officially, when I put the jersey on, that's when it hit me the hardest," Gonzalez said, his voice brimming with excitement. "It's changed. Now I'm representing a new team, a new city."

"[Tuesday], it hit me that I was home," he said. "When I was at the Capitals game and I got all the love in the world from all the fans, I think it sets a tone that we're ready, we're going to come out here swinging for the fans and we're definitely going to go out there and try to shut teams down. I think this is a great opportunity and a great organization to do it with. ... I think I'm going to be here and I'm going to be happy for a while."

That's what the Nationals have in mind as well, and it was the impetus behind waiting less than a month after acquiring him in a trade with Oakland before signing Gonzalez to a five-year contract extension with option years that could keep him in a Nationals uniform through 2018.

The contract extension is worth $42 million guaranteed with the potential to increase to $65 million if both team options are exercised but does not include any no-trade provisions. The idea was in general manager Mike Rizzo's mind when he traded four of his best prospects for Gonzalez, and it was his proactive approach that led to the sides agreeing early on terms to avoid arbitration and add at least one year of free agency.

"The first phone call came from me to the agency [representing Gonzalez]," Rizzo said, "but I think there was mutual interest in getting a deal done. We were satisfied and convinced that this is the type of person and player that we want on the mound for us and in the clubhouse.

"We've done a lot of homework. We're convinced of the makeup. We're convinced of the character. We've scouted the player extensively and we're convinced of the skill set and the talent level."

Said Gonzalez, "They wanted a young, core team, and I thought it was an honor. To go out there and be part of that rotation, I look at it, with the offense and the defense that we have, we're going to be around for quite a while. Hopefully, we can get this championship out of the way and try to get a couple more while I'm still here."

Gonzalez is aware of some of the knocks on him — he walks a lot of batters, he's spent his first two major league seasons in what's considered a pitcher's park — and he's not afraid to discuss them. Asked about the walks and how to bring them down, Gonzalez joked that he'll "have to get in good with the umpires." In his next breath, he discussed working with pitching coach Steve McCatty.

"If I can get past the walks situation, I think it balances out where I can go out there and finally get some more innings, probably compete a little harder," Gonzalez said. "There's a lot of stuff I need to polish and I need to dust off. I'm not saying I'm going to be perfect, but I will strive to be.

"I know the way I am. I can't sleep unless I continue to strive and get better and better. I know Mike took a shot with me, and I don't want to let him down. When that happens, I'll compete even harder, I'll train even harder. I'm a happy-go-lucky guy, but when it comes down to it, I want to make sure that you got exactly what you wanted."

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