The Washington Times - March 11, 2012, 04:50PM

JUPITER, Fla. — Gio Gonzalez stood on the mound as sheets of rain came pouring through Roger Dean Stadium Sunday afternoon. He thrust his arms out to his sides, wondering how much rain was enough for the umpires to decide he didn’t need to face Yadier Molina with two outs in the fourth inning. 

“It got to the point where I was saying to Molina, ‘Here’s a fastball. Hit it. Please. Let’s end this inning, I’m drenched over here,’” Gonzalez joked later. “But that’s a good-hitting team so even messing around like that he could end up putting one out over the field. I didn’t want to do that.”

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Molina ended up doing them all a favor, grounding out to shortstop and mercifully sending the teams off the field with the Nationals’ up 1-0 over the Cardinals. That’s how it ended, the rain refusing to let up until hours later. Gonzalez was the only Nationals pitcher who got his work in — but that’s OK. He used just 51 pitches and in the four innings he did throw, he was sharp.

Gonzalez was in the 91-93 mph range with his fastball and he got Shane Robinson swinging on the curveball to open the game and struck out Lance Berkman just before the rain truly began to fall. He allowed just two hits — a single to Jon Jay, much to his chagrin, and another to Matt Holliday. He wasn’t rattled by two errors at short from Andres Blanco, or by the 20 or so friends, family and members of the Hialeah, Fla., high school baseball team who came to see him and cheered his every move.

“His pitch count was unbelievable for four innings,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “He’s been nothing but superb. What can you say? He was joking, ‘How many pitches do I need to throw down in the ‘pen?’ We said, ‘We’ll let you pass.’”

Matt Purke, Henry Rodriguez, Sean Burnett and Waldis Joaquin were also scheduled to pitch for the Nationals but Johnson wasn’t too upset that they were unable to go. Purke will get a few innings on Monday when the Cardinals visit the Nationals in Viera in what will likely be one of his final appearances before he gets sent to minor league camp. Henry Rodriguez, who was the only pitcher who made the trip who hadn’t thrown since Thursday, will also pitch Monday.

— Gonzalez and Jay grew up together in south Florida and Gonzalez was joking later that Jay always seems to get a hit off him, the same type of looping single he got on Sunday. Jay and Gonzalez exchanged a little friendly trash talk as the Cardinals’ center fielder made himself at home on first base but Gonzalez snared a comebacker off the bat of Daniel Descalso one batter later to erase Jay’s threat.

As for the Descalso at-bat, Gonzalez came up smiling but, quite frankly, he was lucky his glove got there.

“I just closed my eyes,” he said. “I guess there was a magnet in my hand.”

– First baseman Adam LaRoche made his second straight spring starter after sitting out the team’s first seven games with a sprained left ankle. LaRoche wasn’t tested much at first base but he looked fine there and he also picked up his second hit of the spring with a single in the fourth inning. 

Jason Michaels followed with another single but knowing LaRoche’s ankle has been an issue, the Nationals held him at second instead of asking him to push it to go first-to-third. Wilson Ramos also followed with a single, so LaRoche made it to third base eventually, but Anthony Rendon flew out to left field and Blanco ground into a double play to end the frame. 

– Brett Carroll, Blanco and Roger Bernadina all also picked up hits in the abbreviated contest. Bernadina’s was especially impressive coming on an 0-2 pitch and scooting up the middle past the the Cardinals’ starting middle infielders of David Freese and Descalso. Carroll scored on the hit.

Johnson updated the injury status of Michael Morse, Bryce Harper and Rick Ankiel this morning.