MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Gio rides high with a little help from his friends

Southpaw values advice from pitching coach Maddux, Papelbon

Gio rides high with a little help from his friends

WASHINGTON -- Whenever Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez talks to the media after a quality start, it's like attending an award show. First, he credits the catcher behind the plate, then the solid defense behind him and the bullpen that preserved his victory. Even pitching coach Mike Maddux and manager Dusty Baker get honorable mentions.

But giving others credit is the reason Gonzalez is having a solid season in 2016. Before having his worst start this past Monday against the Mets, Gonzalez was virtually unhittable, posting a 1.86 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .222 batting average. Gonzalez will try to redeem himself Saturday against the Cardinals.

Gonzalez is throwing with a purpose. He is not walking as many hitters as he did in the past. Every time he looks into the catcher's glove there is a purpose. These days, he never takes a pitch off.

It helped that Gonzalez fixed his mechanics and received words of wisdom from Maddux, who told him him to slow his game down. In the past, Gonzalez was rushing to make pitches on the mound.

"Just non-stop, Maddux gives me more information and more knowledge on how to approach a hitter -- 'Why not throw [the hitter] this, why not do this, why not do that,'" Gonzalez said. "I give credit to pitching coaches especially when the results are coming. It's hard for me to say that I've done anything different. All I've done is pick up the target a little bit more."

Gonzalez's fantastic start

It also helped that Gonzalez has a breathing technique to calm down on the mound. Mark Campbell, who is the team's director of mental conditioning, is the reason Gonzalez is enjoy the game again.

"He taught me how to slow big situations down," Gonzalez said. "Just refocus and get back in the strike zone. He gives me a fresh perspective in the thought process, giving me stuff that is positive to look at instead of 'Why is this happening?' He has such a great idea, a great mindset of who do you want to be as a player. He is knowledge, and knowledge is always power."

Then there's closer Jonathan Papelbon, one of Gonzalez's good friends. The two often work together during bullpen sessions. Papelbon is quick to give him pointers. For example, he will tell Gonzalez to keep his shoulder closed on a certain pitch.

"Little things go a long way," Gonzalez said. "He has a lot of knowledge. He is fun to be around. He is a bookworm. He knows his stuff. You got to give him all the credit in the world. He has been doing it so long. What I love is, he wants to help you. He wants you to get better. He wants you to understand the game. I'm glad he had the time to help me in Spring Training, and he is doing it now throughout the season. He has a big heart, and he means well in everything he does."

Papelbon said him and Gonzalez are helping each other. As Papelbon put it, they are holding each other accountable. Papelbon said his relationship with Gonzalez is one of the reasons for his own success this season.

"With us doing that, it makes us focus on the goal at hand each day and we make sure we are holding each other accountable to being the best we can be each day," Papelbon said.

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.