Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell remains full of surprises.
The latest move few saw coming happened Thursday afternoon, as he named Gio Gonzalez as his Game 1 starter in the National League Championship Series. It will be the left-handers first action against the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, though in his career he’s 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA against them.
“We like the matchup against their lineup. It’s no secret we’re going to use our pitching a little differently than the traditionalists would like,” Counsell said.
“We’re asking Gio to go out there and get a bunch of outs. How many, we’ll just see how it goes.”
Gonzalez didn’t pitch in the NLDS, meaning when he takes the mound on Friday night it’ll have been 12 days since his last start. It’s similar to the layoff he had between his final start with the Washington Nationals before being traded to Milwaukee in late August. All he’s done since joining the club is put together a string of five really solid starts. He went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA, a significant improvement over what he’d done in Washington.
“Any player that’s traded there’s a little more juice there,” Counsell said. “You gotta prove yourself, even though you’re an established Major Leaguer. There’s just a little added juice. And I think in Gio’s case, the trick is do you use that in the right way. And Gio has used it in the right way.”
For Gonzalez, the chance to be a part of a team competing for a championship is special. Six weeks ago, the 33-year-old was on a club that had underachieved and was already making plans for the offseason. He knew his time in Washington was likely done, and he wasn’t sure what would come next. Now, he’s eight wins from getting a ring.
“I just want to pitch. I’m grateful I get to pitch another postseason game and with another team now,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s pretty remarkable, pretty incredible, and hopefully I get to tell my kids about this one day.”
How long he’ll be on the mound remains to be seen. As Counsell said, they’ve made no secret that they’ve approached pitching this season differently than most. It’s what led to going with a bullpen game to start the NLDS and now going with a guy that may not make it past the third or fourth inning in Game 1 of the NLCS. Counsell knows his team and what works for them.
“We’re not trying to eliminate the need for great starting pitching,” Counsell said, noting he’d start his former teammate, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson, if he could. “Our team’s different. We’re trying to figure out what is the best way for us to put together a tough 27 outs and make it tough on them and get those outs as fast as we can. We’re considering a different way to put that puzzle together.”
And Gonzalez is just fine with that, knowing that if he can get one time through the order, they’ve got the best bullpen in baseball to back him up.
“Any way you need me, any style of pitching, I’m in,” Gonzalez said of his message to Counsell. “I want to be a part of it any way possible.”