JUPITER, Fla. — Thursday was not a good day for Gio Gonzalez. Eighty five pitches were expended for Gonzalez to allow 10 hits, eight earned runs, walk four and strike out three Cardinals in a 9-0 drubbing of the Nationals at Roger Dean Stadium.
Pitches that were up, they let go by or they hit. Pitches there were outside they reached and flung to the outfield. In a five-run fourth, Gonzalez faced nine hitters. The sequence went like this: Single, double, sacrifice, home run, walk, double, single, walk, strikeout. Ryan Mattheus came on for the final out of the game.
After the game, Gonzalez produced a laundry list of improvements that need to be made.
“What I want to work on is definitely better pitches, better selection, keeping the ball down, learning to hit my spots, mixing it up on certain counts, learning that certain hitters are very aggressive right off the bat,” he said.
If there was a silver lining it was this: “I felt my arm was alive. I felt strong. I felt I could’ve kept going.”
And there was the fact that it was March 22 and the statistical outcome of this game meant as much when it was 0-0 as it did when it was 8-0.
Before this start Gonzalez had been putting together a sterling spring. He’d allowed just one earned run, unofficially, in 10 1/3 innings of work for a 0.87 ERA. Unofficially, of course, because his scoreless four-inning outing against the Cardinals on March 11 was called, so those innings don’t count toward his actual spring stats.
With Thursday’s outing added into those “unofficial” stats, though, Gonzalez’s ERA jumped to 5.79.
“Obviously,” he said, “I’m glad it happened now and not during the season.”
“I felt like I was throwing pretty good pitches. They were just making contact. You’re going to have those days and the beauty part about today, it’s spring training.”
Often times as pitchers work their way through spring training they can hit a bit of a “dead arm” period. Some have it early in the spring, when they’re still working their arms into shape, and others feel it hit when they’re getting close — but just not quite there — to the regular season.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said that’d be a fair explanation for what happened to Gonzalez on Thursday.
“Just this time of the spring,” Johnson said. “Some guys have it earlier and try to muscle it out. He’s so fluid, he was just feeling it a little today. Not real sharp. Not real frisky. So he just needs to get through that period. It’s all about getting to that first start of the season. And I’m pleased with the way he threw.”
Gonzalez felt in the bullpen that his pitches were up and he knew it’d be an uphill fight all day from there. He didn’t battle his stamina as much as he did in his last outing, when he noted feeling a little less fuel in the tank as the innings and pitches wore on, but the added wrinkle of having to come to the plate threw him a little bit.
An American Leaguer in the majors to this point, Gonzalez has cracked several jokes already this spring about his hitting prowess, or lack thereof, really, but it is an addition to the game on the National League side that pitchers have to adjust to and Gonzalez got his first taste of that today. He struck out in his only at-bat and admitted that it “takes a little bit out of you.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Johnson said. “It’s a new experience for him.”
There were plenty of theories flying around from Gonzalez’s list of improvements that needed to be made, to hitting, to the possibility Johnson brought up of Gonzalez tipping his breaking pitches somehow, noting that “They got to some pretty good breaking balls. I’ll look at film to see if he’s tipping or something like that.”
Gonzalez figures to make two more spring starts so he’s got plenty of time to fine tune things before he takes the mound on April 7 in Chicago. Now he just has to figure out where to start on his list