VIERA, Fla. — A little less than halfway through his bullpen session Sunday morning, Gio Gonzalez unleashed a two-seam fastball toward catcher Wilson Ramos that had such ferocious movement on it, it ticked off the edge of the catcher’s glove and squirted to his right.
Gonzalez did continue to pitch, even after some friendly ribbing from pitching coach Steve McCatty, and finished up his second bullpen of the spring with more proof that he has come to camp with his arm very much in shape.
“If you’ve got a star catcher like Wilson Ramos missing it, it lets you know your ball is moving,” Gonzalez said. “Can’t ask for a better way to throw a bullpen, especially when you have Ramos looking at you like, ‘Hey, new glove, it’s a new glove.’ That’s his excuse.”
Gonzalez has twice been brought up unprompted by manager Davey Johnson as one of the pitchers who has impressed most early. That’s good news for the Nationals, who will lose him to Team USA after his third start of the spring.
That will be later than initially expected, though. Team USA and pitching coach Greg Maddux have agreed to allow Gonzalez to skip the first round of the tournament in Arizona. Should they advance, Gonzalez will join them for the second round at Marlins Park.
The earliest Gonzalez could pitch in the World Baseball Classic is March 12, setting him up to start in the Grapefruit League on Feb. 25, March 2 and March 7.
“There’s no sense in him going to join the club when everybody else does,” Johnson said, noting that he’d asked Maddux if Gonzalez could report a little later. “He could stay here and get his work in and then drive down to Miami after he throws his last game here.”
The Nationals are happy that they will keep him in camp for the extra starts but Gonzalez said he’s felt so good early, even in the windy, chilly 40-degree temperatures that greeted his workout Sunday, that he’s ready to push it a bit. Gonzalez said he began playing catch in late December or early January but didn’t throw more than one or two bullpens in the offseason, following the routine he’s had for years.
“I already feel like I’m ready to go now, so it’s a good feeling,” Gonzalez said. “Well-rested in the offseason, got my arm in shape, and just looking forward to live [batting practice].”
The Nationals will begin live BP sessions, in which the pitchers throw batting practice for the hitters, on Tuesday.
Frigid first workout
The Nationals’ first full-squad workout of the spring felt little like spring as all 53 players in camp gathered on the minor league fields bundled in sweatshirts and winter hats. The temperatures in Viera on Sunday morning hovered in the low 40s, but with gusting winds making it feel more like high 30s.
“It’s freezing,” Gonzalez said. “Rain yesterday, snowing today. What have we got tomorrow? Hailstorm?”
Johnson kept the workout tight because of the conditions, wrapping things up in roughly an hour and 45 minutes. He also held a brief team meeting before the workout to remind players that he is the guy who can solve their problems, so to keep in touch and be open with him.