Nationals and Americans

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It is said that 90 percent of baseball is pitching. Abiding by that adage, Team USA stands just one win from the championship round of the World Baseball Classic thanks in large part to a pair of stellar performances, both by members of the Washington Nationals starting rotation.

After Ross Detwiler kept the Americans’ hopes alive by closing out Italy over four scoreless frames on Saturday night, it was Gio Gonzalez’s turn in his hometown of Miami on Tuesday. Pitching in front of a raucous crowd of 32,872, he pumped fastballs, spun curveballs and pulled the string on his ever-improving changeup to befuddle a Puerto Rican squad full of Major Leaguers. By the time Gonzalez was done, just three opposing batters had reached safely in five shutout frames, with five strikeouts to boot. Team USA went on to win by a 7-1 final, with Gonzalez the victor.

Gonzalez dominated in front of his hometown crowd.

Gonzalez dominated in front of his hometown crowd.

Think about it this way: if Detwiler and Gonzalez had pitched their nine combined innings in the same game, they would have collaborated on a four-hit shutout of the international field with a single walk and eight strikeouts.

“This was a blessing to be alongside some of the greatest,” said Gonzalez of his first opportunity to represent Team USA. “To say that I pitched in front of my home crowd and to win, it’s truly a dream.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Gonzalez’s outing was his pinpoint control, which led to 48 strikes in his 69 total pitches. That’s a 70 percent strike rate, compared with the 62 percent he posted last year, lower than every other member of the Washington rotation (Cliff Lee led MLB at 70.5 percent). If nothing else, it’s an encouraging sign for Nationals fans looking to see what Gonzalez can do to build off his 21-win season a year ago.

“We were right on the same page, every pitch,” said Gonzalez of his interactions with his catcher, Joe Mauer, whom he said he shook off only once all game. “I felt confident enough to go out and pound the strike zone.”

Team USA will get Wednesday off – as Puerto Rico and Italy will battle to stay alive in the tournament – before taking on the Dominican Republic on Thursday. While that would be Detwiler’s throw day, he is unsure as of yet whether or not he will be called upon in that game. Gonzalez, meanwhile, would not start again until the championship round, should Team USA advance to San Francisco.

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