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Nats' Gio Gonzalez responds to Dusty Baker's request for him to step up

Nats' Gio Gonzalez responds to Dusty Baker's request for him to step up

There are few things that can make the Nationals feel better about the untimely loss of Stephen Strasburg to a right flexor mass strain, but Gio Gonzalez pitching like he did on Sunday is one of them.

The Nats lefty was singled out publicly by manager Dusty Baker on Thursday, the day Strasburg's injury diagnosis was announced, during his pregame press conference. He also approached Gonzalez privately.

"We talked the other day and I told him that he's very important in this equation, especially with Stras out. He responded," Baker said.

Indeed. Gonzalez tossed seven innings of one-run ball against the Phillies in the Nationals' 3-2 win on Sunday. It was a rebound performance for Gonzalez, who got shelled in his previous start. And it helped push the Nats forward with their third straight win, right before they get set to host the Mets in a big series this week.

"He was dealing," Baker said. "He seemed like a guy on a mission."

Gonzalez also had a recent chat with pitching coach Mike Maddux.

"Mad Dog and Dusty were like, ‘Hey we’re going to need you to kind of focus a little bit more.’ That’s exactly it. I just wanted to have a good bounce-back [start],” Gonzalez said.

The key for Gonzalez on Sunday was keeping his pitch count low. He got through seven innings on 92 pitches and that was set up by a quick first three frames in which he only needed 43 throws.

Gonzalez didn't rely on strikeouts like he has in the past. He had five, but most of his outs were on balls put in play.

Included in that were double plays that he induced in the second inning and the fourth.

"As long as I can keep going deep in the game like that, I’ll take some double plays and some groundballs to the middle infield anytime. These guys play great back there," Gonzalez said. 

Both of the double plays for Gonzalez were started by Anthony Rendon at third. Rendon himself has seen a change in Gonzalez in the three years they have worked together.

"We actually talked about it a couple years ago," Rendon said. "When he was coming up, he always wanted to strike everybody out. He wanted to rear back and throw 95 and try to get those big outs and try to be that dominant power pitcher. But as he’s gotten older, he’s learned how to pitch even more. Every year, he’s learning. He’s getting those ground ball outs, so that’s taking him deeper into the game because his arm still feels strong. He’s not trying to overpower everybody."

Gonzalez now has a 3.59 ERA going back to the start of July, during a stretch of 13 starts. He can't himself solve all their problems with Strasburg out, but pitching like that will certainly help.

[RELATED: Bryce Harper had some great quotes after his big HR to beat the Phillies]

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE