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Gio Gonzalez will start for Team USA on Tuesday night in Miami.
From Italy's surprise advancement to the second round to the Canada-Mexico brawl to Team USA's dramatic victory over the Canadians in yesterday's winner-take-all game in Phoenix, the WBC hasn't lacked for drama so far.
It has lacked to date in being influenced much by members of the Nationals -- Ross Detwiler did pitch well in relief Saturday night and Roger Bernadina has helped keep the Netherlands alive -- but that's about to change because Gio Gonzalez will be front-and-center tomorrow night. By virtue of the United States' win yesterday, Gonzalez will now leave Nats camp, make the short drive home to Miami and start tomorrow's second-round opener against Puerto Rico.
This promises to be a major event for Gonzalez, who grew up 15 minutes from Marlins Park and surely will have a large cheering section of family and friends in attendance. And it will offer the left-hander his first opportunity to pitch in a competitive ballgame since his disappointing start in Game 5 of the NLDS and an offseason in which his name was linked to a clinic under investigation for distributing performance enhancing drugs to ballplayers.
Gonzalez has been fired up to pitch in the WBC since he was first added to the roster shortly before the start of spring training. And after watching Team USA from afar during the first round -- he remained in Viera because he knew he wouldn't be pitching until Round 2 -- he'll eagerly anticipate joining the rest of his American teammates at last.
It will be interesting to see, though, if Gonzalez can hold his obvious excitement in check once he takes the mound tomorrow night. The 21-game winner was one of several Nationals players who might have been too amped up during their first trip to the postseason in October. They've all spoken this spring about the lessons they learned from that experience. Now we'll find out if Gonzalez is able to make the necessary adjustment.
This will be only the fourth time Gonzalez has faced hitters this spring, his previous three starts coming in Grapefruit League play and totaling only eight innings of work. WBC rules permit starters to throw as many as 80 pitches in second-round games, though you have to assume Gonzalez will be on a slightly shorter leash tomorrow considering he's yet to throw more than three innings at a time.
If he's looking for inspiration, Gonzalez need only watch Detwiler's four-inning relief appearance Saturday night against Italy. The fellow Nationals lefty both dominated and kept himself under control, pitching with ease and not appearing to overextend himself in early-March as many pitching coaches and GMs fear guys participating in the WBC might.
Detwiler's fastball consistently registered 91-92 mph, a couple of ticks below his typical velocity during the regular season, but he still was highly effective, keeping the ball down in the zone and inducing a bunch of grounders.
How Detwiler figures into the rest of the WBC remains to be seen. He would typically be scheduled to pitch again on Thursday, which would be Team USA's next game if it wins tomorrow. (A loss would send the Americans into the loser's bracket and an elimination game on Wednesday.)
And then there's the other Nationals big leaguer still alive in this tournament (at least, alive as I write this). Bernadina and his honkball-playing mates from the Netherlands face a do-or-die game this morning against Cuba in Tokyo. The winner joins Japan in reaching the WBC final four in San Francisco this weekend; the loser is eliminated.
A USA-Netherlands semifinal, with Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler going head-to-head with Roger Bernadina? That would be yet another compelling storyline to what has already proven to be an entertaining WBC.