OAKLAND – Former A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez has received well wishes everywhere he’s gone this weekend in his return to the Bay Area.
He’ll take the mound for the Washington Nationals on Sunday and face his old team for the first time. Though he says there will extra emotions tied to this start, he’ll try to keep it all business once the game starts.
“I’m gonna take in the moment until they say ‘Play Ball’,” Gonzalez said Saturday afternoon. “You still gotta do a job. It’s exciting to see the A’s. At the same time I gotta face them and try to do my best.”
The Mother’s Day finale to this three–game series sets up as an enticing one with Gonzalez matched up against another standout lefty in Scott Kazmir.
There’s been lots of turnover on Oakland’s roster since Gonzalez was traded to Washington in December 2011. But he figures to face Josh Donaldson – the catcher-turned-third baseman who was behind the plate for some of Gonzalez’s starts in the A’s organization.
There’s a chance Daric Barton could be in the lineup at first base. But with Coco Crisp nursing a neck injury, the only other hitter who played alongside Gonzalez in an A’s uniform is Eric Sogard, and It figures that the switch-hitting Nick Punto might instead start at second against the lefty Gonzalez.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said his team has a general idea of what to expect against Gonzalez, but that he expects the pitcher has also evolved after two seasons with Washington.
Gonzalez won 21 games in 2012 with the Nationals. Though he was just 11-8 last season, he posted a very solid 3.36 ERA. So far he’s 3-2 this year with a 2.91 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.
“I’m sure he’s got some tricks up his sleeve,” said Melvin, who managed Gonzalez for a half-season after he took over the A’s in June 2011. “When I had him the breaking ball he was just trying to get it over the plate. Now I think he’s probably a little better at back-dooring it or back-footing it.”
There’s also a former Athletic pitching very well in the Nationals’ bullpen – Jerry Blevins. He’s 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 18 appearances and to this point has been the top lefty in the bullpen for manager Matt Williams.
Blevins, always a fan favorite in Oakland, was serenaded to chants of “Jerry! Jerry!” from the right field bleachers during batting practice Friday and again in the middle of the game while he sat in the bullpen.
“It was pretty touching, it means a lot to me,” Blevins said.