Gio Gonzalez has a couple of very obvious things working for him as his Nationals prepare to conclude their series in Oakland against the A's. He's having a great start to the season, and he's extremely comfortable at O.co Coliseum.
And comfortable he should be. Gonzalez spent the first four years of his Major League career with the Athletics, establishing himself during the 2010 and 2011 seasons and compiling a record of 38-34 with a 3.93 ERA. In Oakland, he reeled off 21 wins against 14 losses, compiling a steady 3.56 ERA.
He also quite enjoyed his time there, giving this homecoming a bit of an emotional flavor.
"It brings a lot of memories," Gonzalez said. "I think sitting on the other side was kind of weird, but when you go out there and just enjoy the moment, saying hi to everyone that you took the time to say hi to when you were here. I think it's a great atmosphere, always had a lot of love out here. It's one of those moments you take in at the time, because it will be gone by the next series."
Now, about the great season he's having. Gonzalez has had one bad start, when he allowed six earned runs over six innings in a loss to the Braves in Atlanta. Other than that, he's been consistent and effective, allowing three or fewers runs in his other six starts. Four times, he's allowed one or no runs, including his most recent outing, on May 4 in Philadelphia. He yielded one run over 7 1/3 innings, albeit in a losing effort.
"You know he has a plus fastball and a plus breaking ball," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I'm sure he's got some things up his sleeve. Guys as good as he is find things to make them better. When I first had him, he was concentrating on getting his curveball over. He's beyond that."
On the A's side, lefty starter Scott Kazmir is also off to a nice start. He just logged his first loss of 2014 in his most recent outing, allowing four runs over six innings against the Mariners. Before that, Kazmir strung together a four-game winning streak, spread over six starts.
From a personal standpoint, Sunday's Mother's Day start is extra meaningful. His mother, Deborah, overcame breast cancer about 20 years ago, and she has been healthy ever since, getting regular check-ups.
"She was a big inspiration, the way she stayed strong through the process and always had a positive attitude," Kazmir said. "It's a very important day, and I'm proud to be pitching. It seems like my turn has fallen on this day a couple of times."
Nationals: Injury issues
The Washington lineup isn't at full strength without stars like Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, who are both dealing with lengthy thumb injuries. With first baseman Adam LaRoche's quad injury adding him to the DL, manager Matt Williams needs more production out of regulars like shortstop Ian Desmond and leadoff man outfielder Denard Span.
Through the team's first 35 contests, Desmond was hitting .221, while Span was batting .243, but the skipper doesn't sound too concerned with their ability to produce going forward. Williams said he hasn't approached the two players about their struggles at the plate, nor does he plan to.
"You can't do that," Williams said. "They look at you, like, 'OK that's eyewash. Calm down, don't worry about it.' But of course, you're going to worry about it. You're human, and you want to do well, and you want to get a hit every time you go up there. The key for both those guys is to play, and to play a lot.
"At the end of the year, water finds its level. The history for both of those guys is that they'll be just fine. So, we're not going to panic, and they're not going to panic. They're going to play every day, as much as they possibly can."
A's: Lineup tweaks
Coco Crisp will miss Sunday's game, and he is doubtful for the upcoming set with the White Sox. The outfielder strained his neck after running into the wall to catch Kyle Seager's fly ball for the final out of the fourth inning on Wednesday against the Mariners and has not played since.
It's likely right-handed-hitting Craig Gentry will assume the leadoff role Sunday against Gonzalez, a lefty.
• A's players Tommy Milone, Josh Donaldson, Joe Savery and Daric Barton will be hosting their mothers on the field during the pregame ceremony Sunday.
• The Nationals have now visited every Major League city and played in 33 different ballparks.
• The A's and Nats have very little history on the field, but have been frequent trade partners in the past. Washington's Mike Rizzo and Oakland's Billy Beane have consummated seven trades since December 2010.