For a guy who earns his paycheck doing physical labor, Gio Gonzalez spends a lot of time sitting around waiting. The left-handed starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals works hard on game day to shake off the idleness that can overtake hurlers between starts by following a set and stringent program that prepares both his muscles and mind to lead the Nats when he's asked to take the mound.
Athletes may break into the bigs because of talent, but they stay there because of consistency. Designing a program – even one that is limited to game day – is the key to staying productive and healthy. Gonzalez has averaged more than 17 wins and 200 innings since 2010 – and, with a 7-3 record and a 3.03 earned run average through the first half of this season, he looks primed for another good year. This consistency, he says, is the result of his well-honed routine, which begins the moment he wakes up.
After his blood gets circulating, Gonzalez begins stretching out his back and chest. He follows with his legs, which provide the real force in his delivery. "About five minutes before I head out, I have my legs stretched so I have the nice high leg kick that I need to keep myself up," Gio says. Although a pitcher has his limbs pushing and pulling in several directions as he winds and delivers, Gonzalez says he's careful not to overdo a stretching routine: "It's weird because the more stretch you get, the worse it is for the body," he explains. "You don't want to feel too stretched because you don't want to feel too loose, where you have no control over the arm. You want to feel loose to where you can get your arm out in front and your body’s just timing right, where your leg is just perfect."
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