- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the day Gio Gonzalez made his final start of the season’s first half, he wandered about the clubhouse in a bright red T-shirt that proudly proclaimed “Strasburg Knows.”

The Motown tunes were cranked up - “best music day of the week,” bench coach Randy Knorr called it - and the Nationals’ boisterous left-hander began to offer his usual greeting to anyone and everyone who made it into his sight line.

“With Gio all you have to do is grin and he’s gonna be grinning at you,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “And he’s gonna be hacked off at you if you’re not grinning back at him.”

It’s a 180-degree turn from what goes on in the clubhouse the day before he pitches. Those are Stephen Strasburg’s starts, days treated like the business meeting they are. Music is not played. Strasburg does not use his time to joke around. The sole goal of the pregame on those days is not to disrupt his focus from the opposing lineup at hand.

“Serious as a heart attack,” Johnson said.

And yet the most common scene in the dugout this season is the one that features the Nationals’ dual aces laughing, talking and dissecting the game. Gio, of course, is generally the one doing most of the talking. More often than not, the conversation ends with Gonzalez regaling Strasburg about the time so-and-so either looked foolish against him, or took him deep. Laughter follows.

“They’re two peas in a pod,” said right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, the one among the trio who actually heads in the All-Star break with the lowest ERA, 2.61.

Strasburg and Gonzalez are constantly linked. Two of the best pitchers in the National League, two of only three pitchers in baseball to average more than 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in the first half (Detroit’s Max Scherzer is the third). They’ll both represent the Nationals on Tuesday night as All-Stars.

But starting from the most basic of facts - that Strasburg is right-handed and Gonzalez left - they couldn’t be more dissimilar.

“Just totally different personalities,” Johnson said. “But whatever they do, it works for them. You never want to change that. It’s who they are and who they’re comfortable being.”

‘We go about it a different way’

The incubator that is spring training often becomes tiresome and tedious as the days wear on. But the time provides an opportunity for a team to get to know its new parts and figure out how they fit together.

For the top of the Nationals’ rotation, this spring was especially integral. Strasburg and Gonzalez will anchor the Nationals’ staff through at least the 2016 season. Zimmermann will be there, too, at least through 2015. Getting along isn’t imperative for success, but it helps.

“I think you need a little bit of everything for everyone to bond,” Zimmermann said, adding Edwin Jackson’s laid-back persona and Ross Detwiler’s subdued nature. “If you have five guys with the same personality I don’t think it’s going to work out.”

Strasburg is quiet, intense and often brooding - but with a hint of humor when he wants. That’s what Zimmermann was accustomed to, a personality not unlike his own. Asked his first impressions of Gonzalez, Strasburg flashed some of the wit teammates say is there but rarely makes a public appearance. “I thought he was going to be a little bit taller,” Strasburg said, a brief smile crossing his face. “But that’s about it.”

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