As soon as the Washington Nationals acquired Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland A's last winter they set about signing the then-26-year-old lefty to an extension, giving the starter a 5-year/$42 million dollar deal which bought out all four years of his arbitration eligibility and locked him up as part of the Nats' rotation through 2016 with a club option for 2017 and a player option for 2018. As far as Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo was concerned, Gonzalez was just a few adjustments away from becoming an elite arm. The free passes were one obvious issue. The A's lefty led the league in walks with 91 (4.05 K/9) in 202.2 innings of work in 2011, which was actually an improvement for the fourth straight season over his 6.62 BB/9 in 2008, 5.11 BB/9 in '09 and 4.13 BB/9 in his third year in Oakland in 2010.

"He's got swing and miss stuff and we see his walks turning in the right direction," Rizzo told reporters after sending four prospects (two major-league ready arms, a young, highly-regarded arm and a highly-regarded catcher) to the A's for Gonzalez and minor league right-hander Robert Gilliam. "We see him having general command and we think as he progresses into his career," the Nationals' general manager said, "each and every year he's going to improve on his command." Nationals ' manager Davey Johnson was impressed with the early returns in Spring Training and the start of the season in D.C.

A rough and brief outing in his Nationals' debut in Chicago was followed by back-to-back starts in which he threw 7.0 scoreless, walking two and allowing just four hits while striking out 15 in 14.0 IP against the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros. "The curve ball is unhittable," Johnson told reporters, "Fastball is live. I heard that he was a little wild, well I haven't seen indications of that. He's been around the plate, even his misses are close." At the All-Star Break, Gonzalez was (12-3) with a 2.92 ERA, 42 walks (3.71 BB/9) and 118 Ks (10.45 K/9) in 17 starts and 101.2 IP in which he held opposing hitters to a .192/.275/.290 line.