LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The first pitch Gio Gonzalez fired as a member of the Washington Nationals popped into Wilson Ramos’ glove early Tuesday afternoon and the radar gun reading flashed on the scoreboard behind him: 94 mph. His last pitch of the inning clocked in at 95.
Even for a power lefty, that was a little high.
“I think their guns were juiced a little bit,” Gonzalez said, a wide smile crossing his face as he jokingly pointed out that he’s usually around 105 mph in his first spring start. “I don’t know if it was really 95 but my adrenaline was kicking. My arm felt live.”
Gonzalez, who averaged 92.8 mph on his fastball in 2011 according to fangraphs.com, worked through the majority of the Atlanta Braves projected starting lineup for three innings in the Nationals’ 5-2 victory with little issue. He and catcher Wilson Ramos appeared to move seamlessly, Gonzalez shaking off Ramos no more than twice.
“He told me before the game he will throw everything I call,” Ramos said, coming away thoroughly impressed both by Gonzalez’s power as well as his curveball, which Nationals manager Davey Johnson called “nasty.”
He was admittedly a little “overanxious” warming up in the bullpen for his first start as a member of the Nationals but pitching coach Steve McCatty soothed him — and reminded Gonzalez, the 2011 American League walks leader, to pound the strike zone.
Gonzalez didn’t appear to have much issue doing that. He allowed just one hit and walked one while inducing four ground balls and striking out two. An error by Ian Desmond to open the third inning didn’t rattle Gonzalez, either, and Ramos caught Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons stealing moments later anyway. A strikeout of Michael bourn and a ground ball to third base by Martin Prado later, Gonzalez’s day was done.
“He didn’t look rusty at all to me,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “He made some awful good pitches with his fastball, he had a nasty curveball. He was commenting on someone was yelling at him, and then he said: ‘Oh, it was my mother.’ He’s a character. But he was impressive out there.”
For his first spring start, Gonzalez said he was pleased. He worked on keeping the ball down in the zone, pitching to contact and keeping his pitch count low. His breaking ball wasn’t exactly where he wanted it to be, but Gonzalez projects to have at least four or five more starts before the Nationals head to Chicago for Opening Day.
“I think I still have more work to do there,” Gonzalez said when asked specifically about the curveball. “I think the adrenaline was kicking in. I tried to overthrow it, do too much to it. But, again, I trust my catcher. He makes everything look like it’s a strike.”