The Washington Times - March 27, 2012, 05:35PM

JUPITER, Fla. — Left-hander Gio Gonzalez was tagged for eight runs off 10 hits and four walks in his last spring start, five days ago on this same mound. A little spring training dead arm, the Nationals’ called it, and brushed it off as nothing more.

It was the opposite when he gave up three in the first inning to the Marlins Tuesday afternoon.

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“Overthrowing,” Johnson said. “He was feeling a little frisky.”

Gonzalez was “flying open” during his delivery and it was causing a lot of his pitches to miss left. Essentially, he was rushing his delivery. His pitches had been up in the bullpen and he carried that into the game.

But it wasn’t until pitching coach Steve McCatty and infielder Mark DeRosa, who played third base, mentioned it that Gonzalez was able to fix the problem.

“(DeRosa) said, ‘Hey, you’re rushing a little bit, you’re flying open,’” Gonzalez said. “After that I settled in, stayed back, kept my shoulders in and just felt like I was more on top of the ball… I’m glad that I settled down and stopped the bleeding immediately.

“Sometimes if I can’t see what I’m doing wrong I’m more than happy to listen to one of my position players or a coach… If I would have made that adjustment right from the bullpen into the game it would have been a little different game.”

Gonzalez needed 28 pitches to make it through the first inning, allowing three hits and walking one, but he didn’t allow another runner to cross the plate and his improvement from inning to inning was evident. Ultimately, Gonzalez went five innings allowed just the three runs off seven hits. He didn’t issue another walk the rest of the outing and struck out six. He also retired seven of the last eight batters he faced in the Nationals’ 3-1 loss.

“After the first couple innings, he started pitching and he looked real great to me,” Johnson said. “Everything was sharper, better location.”

Gonzalez estimated that he’s 85-90 percent ready for the start of the season. His endurance has been tested more this spring than ever as he’s had to get accustomed to hitting as well as pitching in a game. Tuesday he struggled to lay down a bunt, fouling out for strike three (“I don’t know why I was jumping out of the box instead of staying there waiting for the ball to get there and laying it down,”) but he has one more spring start to work out the kinks.

The lights will go on for him on Saturday, April 7 in Chicago.

Gonzalez will make his final start of the spring back in Jupiter on Sunday against the Cardinals. Ultimately, five of his seven spring starts will come at Roger Dean Stadium and three will be against St. Louis.

“It’ll be good to see the Cardinals for the third time,” Gonzalez joked. “That’s pretty hard. (But) it is what it is. They have a knowledge, I have a knowledge. Hopefully it works together.”