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Nationals New Pitching Staff Settling In

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VIERA, Fla. (AP) During each of his four major league seasons in Oakland, Gio Gonzalez constantly was reminded that he was going to be a part of the future of the franchise.

Now a key stitch in the offseason rethreading of the Washington Nationals’ pitching staff following his trade from the Athletics, Gonzalez is one of several new faces management hopes will help this team be a playoff contender this season.

“I liked just the fact that they were saying that I’m gonna be here the same amount of time as they will,” Gonzalez said. “We’re gonna be the young core and we’re gonna stick around for the next couple of years. I think that was exciting right off the bat. That was something that Oakland was trying to do with us.

“That’s passed down now over here at Washington with the same type kind of guys and same kind of stuff and maybe even better…There’s a group of guys that gonna be fun just to watch.”

Gonzalez, a left hander, has started 30-plus games each of the past two seasons and is coming off a year in which he posted a career-low 3.12 ERA and struck out a career-high 197 batters. The 26-year-old is now expected to beef up the starting rotation behind right handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman.

Other new faces of note joining the mix are right handed starter Edwin Jackson, a 28-year-old veteran of six teams who earned a ring in St. Louis last season, and former Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge. Both signed one-year deals.

Lidge is the oldest of the new pitching additions at 35, though he will be used primarily to help 2011 All-Star Tyler Clippard with the setup man duties for closer Drew Storen.

Lidge, a two-time All-Star himself, said he’s more than ready to embrace his new role and wants to take pressure off Clippard, who has pitched 179 innings combined the past two seasons.

“I remember early in my career having to throw all those innings like Clippard has to do now and it’s not a lot of fun,” he said. “…It might be a little bit of an adjustment, but not really in my approach that much. I’m still gonna go out there and pitch the way I always do. It might adjust my program, if I usually get out there in the fourth or fifth inning, then I’ll be getting out a little earlier. But that might just be about it.

“Otherwise it will be business as usual.”

Jackson obviously is one of a handful of guys in the clubhouse that can boast World Series experience, but he said he is looking at this year being a potential playoff one.

“It’s a new motivation around here, not just trying to put a team together, but trying to win as well,” he said. “They showed this offseason with the acquisitions they made and the people they picked up that they are starving to win. Everybody’s bought into it.”

Jackson started 2011 with the Chicago White Sox and went 7-7 before going over to the Cardinals and going 5-2 there. He had four postseason appearances, winning a National League Division Series start against Philadelphia, but walked seven in a Game 4 World Series loss to Texas.

The Nationals’ coaching staff has already started working on tweaking Jackson’s mechanics to keep him at his top level.

Most notably, manager Davey Johnson said Wednesday that includes helping him eliminate an unusual tick in his windup where he drops the ball down and allows batters to get a good glimpse of the upcoming pitch.

Johnson said it’s also clear that there is already competition developing throughout the pitchers and that the new additions only add to all of them approaching workouts that much harder amid increased expectations.

“You can always tell by the way they go about their business that they know the situation,” Johnson said. “They read the newspapers, too.”

The 69-year-old Johnson has also infused some of his old school methods to the mix, including not allowing the pitchers to throw breaking pitches on the first few days of workouts.

Though several players tried to sneak a few in on occasion, bringing about Johnson’s ire, Gonzalez said it has garnered the veteran skipper the kind of respect that will serve the group well.

“Right off the bat he’s letting us know that `I’m gonna take care of you guys,'” he said. “He’s letting us know that he’s gonna look out for us to get us ready for the season.

“He set the tone right there for a lot of people. Just have fun, go out there and show your stuff, but you’re not gonna make the team on the first day. So, just relax and no worries…What that did was take a lot of pressure off all of us.”

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.

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