- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Standing at his locker Monday, Gio Gonzalez wasn’t about to entertain the possibility of being named an All-Star. MLB will announce the full rosters for the July 11 All-Star Game in Miami on Sunday, and the Nationals pitcher, who is in a position to make his third appearance, was focused instead on what he needs to improve on while he’s on the mound.

Like the home run he gave up to the opening batter in the Nationals’ 5-4 loss Monday to the Cubs.

“Right now, I’m just trying to focus on that one mistake pitch and turn the page from there. Today, I have to worry about what I could have done better to keep myself strong in the game,” he said.

Gonzalez, though, has made a solid case for joining what will likely be a strong contingent of Nationals in Miami.

The 31-year-old veteran has a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 2.9 this season, meaning the Nationals have been 2.9 wins better with Gonzalez than a player guaranteed to be on a minimum contract. It’s Gonzalez’s best since 2013 and ranks fifth in the National League among pitchers.

He also has a career-low 2.87 ERA, third best among starters in the NL and seventh in the league.

There’s an intensity to the way Gonzalez is approaching starts in 2017. He’s fourth in the National League in walks and isn’t afraid to use his arm. In 16 games, Gonzalez has thrown for 1,688 pitches total in 100 ⅓ innings. By comparison, Max Scherzer has thrown 1,617 in 107 ⅔ innings and Stephen Strasburg has thrown 1,556 in 95 ⅔ innings.

The way he pitches, he often finds himself in jams that he has to fight his way out of. It doesn’t always work.

There was a perfect example Monday. On a 3-1 count to Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras, Gonzalez threw a four-seam fastball in the bottom of the strike zone only to see Contreras clock a home run. Gonzalez also walked five batters.

But more often this season, Gonzalez has made a habit of recovering from tight situations. He allowed only one hit following Contreras’ homer. By the time his night was over after the sixth inning, he had thrown 113 pitches.

“It’s been fun to watch,” Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “The way he’s come back, the way he’s pitching to contact, coming after people. (Monday was) no different than what he’s done all year. He puts a lot of pressure on the guys, throws a lot of strikes. And when that curveball’s working, he’s tough to face.”

With the All-Star contest in his hometown of Miami, being selected would mean a lot to Gonzalez.

He was previously selected in 2011 and 2012. He was traded to the Nationals from the Oakland Athletics in December 2011 and signed a contract extension with the Nationals that same winter.

On Monday, Gonzalez struck out his 1,500th batter.

“His outing was good,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He threw a lot of pitches, but you know other than that first (batter) home run … he threw the ball well against some very tough hitters over there and he gave us a great chance to win.”

With Gonzalez, Baker has been saying a variation of that quote all season.

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