Gio looks for fresh start in NLDS Game 2

Lefty excited about pitching before home crowd vs. Cubs

Gio looks for fresh start in NLDS Game 2

WASHINGTON -- Left-hander Gio Gonzalez drew the honor of starting the first postseason game in Nationals history back in 2012, and he will now have an opportunity to help the organization with its bid to advance to the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World for the first time.

NLDS Game 2: Today, 5:30 p.m. ET on TBS

With Max Scherzer needing a few extra days to rest his right hamstring, the Nationals will send Gonzalez to the mound today to oppose Jon Lester and the Cubs in Game 2 of the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 CHC 3, WSH 0 WATCH
Gm 2 Oct. 7 WSH 6, CHC 3 WATCH
Gm 3 Oct. 9 CHC 2, WSH 1 WATCH
Gm 4 Oct. 11 WSH 5, CHC 0 WATCH
Gm 5 Oct. 12 CHC 9, WSH 8 WATCH

Gonzalez's assignment grew more vital when the Nationals lost Game 1, 3-0, on Friday night. He will now attempt to do all he can to prevent the defending World Series champs from taking a 2-0 lead back to Wrigley Field for Game 3 of this best-of-five series, which will be started by Scherzer.

"Hopefully, [Gio] gives us a chance to win," second baseman Daniel Murphy said. "I'm excited about what he can do. He's thrown the ball really well for us all year."

Gonzalez had initially thought he would start Game 3 but was told on Wednesday to begin preparing earlier for what will be just his second career home postseason start, and fifth overall.

"As long as I've got a chance to pitch and be a part of something great like this, I think it's an opportunity not too many people can talk about, and not too many people can say they have it under their belt," Gonzalez said. "So I'm just honored and grateful that [manager] Dusty [Baker] still believes in me and feels that I can go out there and pitch a game for them."

Although Scherzer and Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg can be described as the Nationals' co-aces, Gonzalez provided significant value as he posted the NL's fifth-best ERA (2.96) this past season. He entered an Aug. 31 start in Milwaukee with a 2.40 ERA and then proceeded to allow at least five runs in three of his final six starts.

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Though Gonzalez's walk rate rose and his strikeout rate dipped in 2017, he still produced his lowest ERA since he posted a 2.89 ERA in 2012. He credits some of his success to the quick comfort he found with veteran catcher Matt Wieters, who joined the Nationals before the start of the season.

Gonzalez on the Cubs' lineup

"I know this year if he throws a pitch and he doesn't feel like it's up to his standards, he's going to throw the same pitch the next time," Wieters said. "He's not going to shy away from throwing any pitch no matter what he had done before. He has the confidence to make a pitch when he needs to."

With the regular season behind him, Gonzalez can distance himself from the late frustration and attempt to halt his postseason woes. He has not lasted more than five innings in any of his four previous playoff starts, and he exited before the end of the fifth in both of his past two.

Gonzalez's only previous postseason start at Nationals Park occurred in Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS, against the Cardinals. Despite issuing seven walks over five innings, he limited St. Louis to just two runs -- one earned -- and helped Washington claim a 3-2 win.

"I remember getting that home-crowd feeling, the excitement of seeing everyone on their feet, clapping it up," he said. "They really got into it."

Like Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, Gonzalez has had the honor of participating in each of the three postseason series that have involved the Nationals. But this distinction has also given him a thorough understanding of how frustrating it has been for the organization to have never advanced past the NLDS.

"It's the young guys we're excited for, and what they have to offer," Gonzalez said. "I think everybody feels confident, and everybody feels happy, because this is a lineup and a team that was built through the farm system and put together right."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.