VIERA, Fla. — In trying to get their pitching schedule back on track after they sent two of their starters to the World Baseball Classic, the Washington Nationals sent Gio Gonzalez to the minor league side of camp on Monday to make his first start since five sparkling innings for Team USA last week.
Gonzalez, who faced the prospect-laden roster for Double-A Harrisburg, threw 87 pitches in six innings of work.
He allowed one earned run off seven hits and struck out nine. After the first few innings, Gonzalez settled in. He sat in the 92-93-mph range with his fastball and blew it by several of the Nationals’ top prospects in the fifth inning.
“I felt like I was pounding the strike zone,” Gonzalez said. “Anything in the strike zone these guys are swinging at. They were working on stuff, I’m working on stuff. But I felt like I was attacking the zone… it was an aggressive day.”
Gonzalez did not walk a single batter and he was pleased with his progression, despite nearly a week between starts, going from 69 pitches in his start for Team USA to 87 on Monday. He expected that he will throw 90 or more pitches in each of his final two spring starts to continue to build his arm strength for the season.
It’s been a busy last week or so for Gonzalez as he waited for Team USA to qualify for the second round of the WBC, drove down to Miami, pitched, hung around with the hope that they would advance to the championship in San Francisco, and then headed back up to Viera.
Going from the charged atmosphere at Marlins Park last week to the backfields at the Nationals’ complex could’ve meant an immense drop off in adrenaline for Gonzalez, but he said he experienced nothing of the sort on Monday.
“These guys are playing for something,” he said of the minor leaguers. “It’s fun, but once you cross the lines, it’s business. They’re taking it serious and they’re working on stuff.
“I think the minor league side is always a good reality check. It’s not jokes down here. These guys are working and putting pitches in play. When I was taking it as a joke, they were making great contact.”
Asked if he had to knock any rust off after five days (instead of the usual four) between outings, Gonzalez said he did not.
“No, just normal,” he said. “I’m getting older so I’ve got to warm up a little bit, start loosening up. But once I got out of the first two innings, I felt like I was settling in.”