JUPITER, Fla. — There is no such thing as certainty in sports. The Nationals and their fans know that all too well on the large scale after last year’s postseason. But even on the smaller scales, sometimes the things we expect to happen because they seemingly always do, one day just don’t.
Last season it seemed as if Jordan Zimmermann would never throw fewer than six innings in a start, until he did on August 5. Over the last few years, if there was something as close to a lock as you could get for left-hander Gio Gonzalez it was that he would strike out at least one batter every time out.
In Gonzalez’s five years in the major leagues, he has only once gotten through an appearance without striking out a batter — including spring training and the postseason — and that was in relief during his rookie season.
He got his second on Saturday when he pitched three innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk with 52 pitches.
“It’s a good thing,” Gonzalez said of the lack of strikeouts. “Especially when you’re in the strike zone and they’re putting the ball in play. Seeing what the defense was doing, and the offense, you just wanted to get out of this weather as quick as possible.”
“This weather” was a blustery day with temperatures in the low-60s. It wasn’t exactly arctic, but it wasn’t the weather they’re accustomed to here in Florida, either. The wind was one of the main factors, and manager Davey Johnson said Gonzalez had a hard time getting a good grip on the balls.
That was evident by Gonzalez’s pitch selection. The left-hander threw almost exclusively fastballs. He mixed in a few changeups but very few of his signature curveballs.
“For some reason or other the balls were real slippery today and he couldn’t get a good feel on it,” Johnson said. “He didn’t throw many breaking balls, really basically staying with his fastball, until the end of the game he started getting a little bit of feel for it but I think it was just a little cool and it was a little slippery.”
Gonzalez brushed off questions about playoff flashbacks, facing the Cardinals for the first time since the night of Game 5 of the National League Division Series. “It’s spring training,” he said. “There’s no rivalry yet.” And he mostly came away satisfied with his day of work.
Gonzalez will have one more start before he departs Nationals camp for the World Baseball Classic, pitching on March 7 and then heading south to meet Team USA and starts at Marlins Park on March 12. The Nationals will likely hold him right above 50 pitches in his next start
“He’s in a real good place right now,” Johnson said. “He’s feeling good and it’s second time out. No problem getting loose, he was pretty consistent with his stuff. He was missing a little because the ball was a little slippery… He’s going to have one more time out, hopefully it’ll be a little warmer, and it should be a good tuneup for the WBC.”