Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gonzalez set for season debut vs. Chacin, Braves

The last time Gio Gonzalez faced a Major League batter, the calendar still read March and the games didn't count toward the standings.
On Tuesday -- 16 days after last taking the mound -- Gonzalez will finally make his regular-season debut, facing right-hander Jhoulys Chacin and the Braves at Nationals Park.
"I can't wait to grab the ball and finally pitch," Gonzalez said Monday. "I'm just excited to finally get up there and take what I did in Spring Training over to the game."
Gonzalez will look to bounce back from a 2015 season that was a tick below his usual standard. The 30-year-old left-hander posted a 3.79 ERA, his worst mark since 2009, as his strikeout rate dipped to 22.3 percent, the lowest it has been since 2010.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker manipulated Washington's rotation to have Gonzalez, who lasted only 5 2/3 innings per start last year, sandwiched between workhorses Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
Gonzalez pointed out that this configuration has the added benefit of splitting two power right-handers with a lefty. 
But Baker's rotation machinations also meant Gonzalez had to wait until more than a week into the season before taking the mound for the first time, in the Nationals' sixth game. Gonzalez said he's not worried about rust and figures he'll "lock it in" by the time he hits the bullpen for pregame tosses Tuesday.
"I just want to get back to my groove, get back to my routine," Gonzalez said. "And once that gets going tomorrow, I'm going to be looking forward to it for the entire season."
Chacin will also be making his 2016 Major League debut as well as his first start in a Braves uniform. Chacin appears to have distanced himself from the right shoulder ailments that plagued him the past two seasons, striking out 16 batters in 21 innings in Spring Training this year.
The veteran earned a rotation spot to start the season, but the Braves opted to have him make his first start for Triple-A Gwinnett, and he fired 7 2/3 scoreless innings against Norfolk on Thursday.
Chacin has had success at Nationals Park in the past -- allowing just one earned run over 14 innings -- but hasn't pitched in Washington since June 22, 2013.
Things to know about this game
 Though Gonzalez has a 4.54 ERA and 1.434 WHIP in 13 career starts against the Braves, he shut down Atlanta in two outings last year, allowing only seven hits and two runs in 13 innings.
• Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman has the second-most plate appearances against Gonzalez (34) of any player (Ichiro Suzuki has faced the lefty 41 times). Freeman has fared well in these match-ups, posting a .310/.353/.655 slash line against Gonzalez. Jeff Francoeur, who will likely get his first start of the season in left field on Tuesday, has batted .400 (10-for-25) with three doubles and a homer against Gonzalez in his career.
• Ryan Zimmerman, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games Monday, is 5-for-13 for his career against Chacin, with two home runs.

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