Fans of the Washington Nationals may look at the invite of pitcher Gio Gonzalez to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic with mixed emotions. On the one hand, they are happy to see their best pitcher asked to compete in such an event. On the other hand, they may not want him to pitch for fear of injury or being overused by the time September and the post season race comes around.
Gonzalez was invited by Team USA manager Joe Torre to pitch in the tournament which begins on March 8 and lasts close to two weeks. He will begin spring training with the Nationals on February 12 then report to Team USA on March 3. This means that Washington will only have Gonzalez for three weeks before he departs for Arizona. If Team USA makes it to the finals, Gonzalez would come back two weeks before opening day.
The Nationals and their staff have not tried to discourage Gonzalez from pitching in the Classic. Washington manager Davey Johnson once coached Team USA and is a fan of the WBC. He has been in Torre’s shoes and knows what goes into managing in the tournament. Johnson will have no trouble putting his star pitcher in the hands of Torre.
What may worry Nationals fans is the fact that Gonzalez will be asked to pitch meaningful games before opening day. Team USA will go to the WBC in hopes of winning it. Gonzalez and every pitcher on the staff will be expected to give their best. Though the tournament has rules pertaining to pitch limits and number of days between appearances, it will be played less than a month after spring training begins. The question that must be asked is will Gonzalez and every pitcher on the staff be ready?
Another reason for concern with Gonzalez is the fact that he pitched into October last season. Washington made it to the post season for the first time and Gonzalez pitched two games in the NL divisional series against the St. Louis Cardinals. This means that Gonzalez has had less time to rest between the end of his season and spring training. The extra strain of pitching in late season, high pressure games also has to be taken into consideration.
The Nationals can not afford to have anything happen to Gonzalez as they only have five legitimate starting pitchers. If Gonzalez were lost due to injury, Washington would have to find someone currently on their staff or make a trade to replace him. Either way, it would be hard to come up with the 21 wins that Gonzalez gave them in 2012.
Fans of the Nationals will be happy to see Gonzalez compete in the World Baseball Classic. He has earned the right to do so. However, every one of them will be holding their breath until they know that he is still the ace that he was last season and available to pitch in October.