Coming off a pair of ugly outings and having allowed at least five earned runs in three of his last five starts, Gio Gonzalez was searching for answers heading into Sunday afternoon's matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies. Gonzalez had been uncharacteristically inconsistent, and something had to change.
The lefty sought advice from a host of people around the Nationals clubhouse, including pitching coach Steve McCatty, of course. But he also received words of wisdom from three of his teammates.
Catcher Jose Lobaton and Gonzalez sat down on Saturday to talk about keeping his pitches lower in the zone. Closer Drew Storen advised Gonzalez on a slight mechanical adjustment. And Max Scherzer gave Gonzalez tips on changing batters' eye levels during an at-bat.
Add it all up and Gonzalez was able to battle through seven scattered hits and a walk to put in one of his best starts of the 2015 season. Gio kept his pitch count low for most of the afternoon to go 6 1/3 innings with just one earned run allowed in the 4-1 victory.
"Credit goes a lot to my catcher, did a great job. I give credit to my pitching coach, who helped me boost my confidence in my bullpen [session] and just basically telling me go out there and be myself. Another big piece to today's success was the help of Drew Storen. Finding little pieces that I needed to find, helping me to redefine my mechanics. It's just fun picking everyone's brains. The other day I was picking Max [Scherzer]'s brain just seeing to go out there and attack the strike zone and change the eyesight of some of the hitters," Gonzalez said.
Storen went into more detail about the advice he gave Gonzalez before Sunday's win:
"I always try to stay out of the way a little bit. But I saw a couple things and I said ‘hey, it might be worth trying’. You know, I’m a guy that I like to twist and kinda throw similarly like he does but from the other side obviously. I just told him a couple little things to think about. I didn’t really know if he was gonna go with it or not, but he did and it seemed to work out alright. So I guess that’s good," he said.
Storen was impressed that Gonzalez would listen to him, as not everyone is open to tips from their peers.
"It just shows you what a good teammate he is. Anytime somebody tells me something, I try it once and if it doesn’t work then I maybe scrap it. Hopefully it worked so I felt kind of good about that," Storen said.
Manager Matt Williams thought the change in Gonzalez' delivery allowed him to keep the ball lower in the zone, which set up the rest of his repertoire.
"He was down in the strike zone, which is good. If he wanders, generally it's up and away from the right-hander. Today he didn't do that. Today he was down and that's the secret to his success. It just opens up everything else for him. It opens up the inside corner for him, opens up his changeup and his breaking ball. He threw them all today really well. He had some early-count breaking balls for strikes and then changeups down and away from the righties, too," Williams said.
Gonzalez moved to 4-2 on the season and dropped his ERA to 4.53. He still has lots of work to do to prove he's completely back on track, but Sunday was certainly a step in the right direction. Gonzalez hopes his struggles are behind him, now that he's shown himself the recipe for success.
"Today was just, for me, a mental check where it's going uphill now," he said. "I'm trying to stay up there."