2/18/2014 3:46 P.M. ET
Gio driven to reach higher level for Nationals
Improving on little things tops list for pitcher who has won 32 games in two seasons
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
VIERA, Fla. -- On Monday morning, Nationals manager Matt Williams decided to loosen things up in the clubhouse. A projection screen was put up in the clubhouse, and the players saw Instagram photos of left-hander Gio Gonzalez posing for clothing companies.
"It was Matt Williams having a good time, trying to show this team he is going to have some fun," Gonzalez said. "I think he broke the ice by cutting the tension. … We are going to have fun, but at the same time, we are going to do our drills, we are going to do our stuff."
For a guy who has won 32 games for the Nationals in the last two years, Gonzalez wants to improve on the little things that can help a team win. For example, he would like to get better at covering first base. At times, that was a serious problem for Gonzalez last year.
First, there was the game against the Giants on Aug. 14. During the Nationals' 4-2 victory, Gonzalez found himself in a heated argument with right fielder Jayson Werth in the middle of the first inning.
Werth was upset that Gonzalez didn't get to first base in time for a potential inning-ending double play after Buster Posey hit a grounder to Adam LaRoche at first base.
"It was another reminder," Gonzalez said about the incident.
But it wasn't until Sept. 9 when he realized that that he wasn't doing the little things right. It was the day he threw a one-hitter against the Mets. The hit came in the seventh inning when Zach Lutz hit the ball past LaRoche for a clean single. As the ball went by LaRoche, Gonzalez stood on the mound, not even thinking that he should cover first in case LaRoche was able to grab the ball. Gonzalez called that moment a reality check.
"No-hitter is broken just standing on the mound," Gonzalez said. "I'm working on getting over -- just the basic stuff that I should have learned last year on my own. Other than that, I feel like I came into Spring Training strong, healthy, mentally prepared. I'm 28 years old. I'm a grown man now. I've had my journey, I had my fun. Now it's time to get it going."
During the offseason, Gonzalez had bullpen sessions every Tuesday at the University of Miami with former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who would help Gonzalez work on his mechanics. Posada would say something if Gonzalez's shoulder flew open.
Gonzalez put photos of him and Posada on Twitter and had some people believe that the former Yankees catcher was possibly making a comeback. But Gonzalez wants everybody to know that Posada will remain retired.
"[Posada] is full of inspiration," Gonzalez said. "He has great techniques, great methods to go by. It was fun. Sometimes you wish he would give a pointer or two to Wilson Ramos, Jose [Lobaton], Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon. That would be great to pick his brain."
Gonzalez is all about moving forward. Last year, at times, it was tough to move forward. It was a journey for Gonzalez starting in Spring Training. His name was attached to anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis. The Miami New Times reported that Gonzalez had a $1,000 order for Aminorip, a muscle-building protein. However, none of the ingredients listed in Aminorip is on MLB's list of prohibited substances.
Gonzalez was later cleared by Major League Baseball. He said has turned the page from last year.
"I've come to Spring Training focused, prepared and driven," Gonzalez said. "This is probably the best that I've felt. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to play baseball, ready to put the past behind and move forward. … The whole point that I'm doing now is get past that whole conversation we are having now. This is a new year for me. The past is the past. It's something you don't want to bring up any more. You want to move forward."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.