- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2016

When the postseason began, Gio Gonzalez did not want to talk about his performance in the regular season. Before he pitched in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, he deflected questions about another bumpy season, this one with a 4.57 ERA, his poorest since he was a bit player for the Oakland Athletics in 2009. After he lasted just 4 1/3 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gonzalez again only wanted to talk about what was next.

The Washington Nationals announced his playing future Thursday, when they decided to pick up the $12 million option on his contract to pitch next season. Otherwise, Gonzalez would have been a free agent.

After a potent first season in Washington, the gregarious left-hander has produced diminishing returns. His first season in the District was fantastic. Gonzalez finished with a 2.89 ERA and enough Cy Young Award votes to finish in third place. Since, his ERA has escalated on an annual basis, making his laborious outings angst-filled and decreasingly successful.

That All-Star season in 2012 was followed by ERAs of 3.36, 3.57, 3.79 and last season’s unseemly 4.57. The demonstrative Gonzalez has continued to struggle with runners on base. Opponents hit .333 against him last season with runners in scoring position. Once he enters into trouble, the mound turns into quicksand.

Despite averaging 30 starts annually during the last three seasons, Gonzalez has not thrown more than 180 innings. The innings total is an important number for his future. If he throws more than 180 innings next season, a $12 million contract option for 2018 becomes guaranteed. Last season, Gonzalez pitched 177 1/3 innings.

He is the lone left-handed pitcher in the Nationals’ rotation. The free agent market for left-handed pitching is thin. The organization is also lacking at the spot. Washington’s prime pitching prospects — Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth — are all right-handed. There is no left-handed help on the horizon.

Which made picking up the option on Gonzalez’s contract more sensible to this specific team than a $12 million annual salary may represent on the open market. Now that it is done, they, and he, hope he has a regular season he wants to talk about next year.

Note: The Nationals also declined the option on reliever Yusmeiro Petit.

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