- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2013

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Caution over rules for the World Baseball Classic limited Gio Gonzalez to 42 pitches Thursday afternoon in his final Washington Nationals start before joining Team USA.

The left-hander’s arm was in good enough shape to throw 70 pitches. But after conversation with Team USA manager Joe Torre and Major League Baseball, manager Davey Johnson decided to cap Gonzalez’s outing at Osceola County Stadium.

The explanation Johnson cited is buried in the labyrinthine list of rules governing the event, specifically a regulation barring pitchers from the mound for four days after throwing 50 or more pitches in a game. That wouldn’t impact Gonzalez, however, because he’s not scheduled to start for Team USA until Tuesday. But Johnson didn’t want to take a chance.

“I think we could go over 50 and still be fine because he’s going to pitch [Tuesday],” Johnson said. “[That’s to make sure] there’s no issue with the tournament, somebody complains he threw too many pitches or something.”

Another rule, not mentioned by Johnson, appears to limit pitchers to 50 pitches in exhibition games.

The early exit didn’t bother Gonzalez. After three innings of three-hit baseball that included three strikeouts, he completed the afternoon with 23 extra pitches in the bullpen as the Nationals eventually lost to the Houston Astros, 4-2.

“I felt like my command was a lot better,” Gonzalez said. “I felt I was building strength as the game went along.”

Gonzalez wriggled out of jams, from striking out Justin Maxwell after allowing back-to-back hits in the first inning to rebounding from a leadoff walk to retire the next three men in the third. That’s the composure Gonzalez wants to bring to Miami for the WBC and continue into the regular season.

Johnson noted Gonzalez’s improved change-ups and curveballs, something the pitcher focused on in the outing.

“He’s ready,” Johnson said.

Noteworthy

• After Brandon Laird singled to left and took a wide turn, Bryce Harper rocketed a throw behind the runner to a surprised Tyler Moore at first. That earned Harper a quick chat with Johnson. “I was waiting on one,” Johnson said. “You can’t keep that bottled up.”

• Drew Storen gave up two hits and struck out two in his inning. Johnson noticed the right-hander dropping his elbow and getting underneath pitches. “He’s not quite there yet,” Johnson said.

• Converted pitcher Micah Owings slipped into the game in left field, a position he hadn’t played save for a few outings in college and two games in Puerto Rico over the winter. “It seems like you’re out there for a half-hour,” he said.

• Johnson expects prospect Nathan Karns or journeyman Ross Ohlendorf to fill Gonzalez’s rotation spot while he plays in the WBC. Karns experienced slight tightness in his right leg during his last outing, but it isn’t thought to be a lingering problem. Ohlendorf, on the other side, worked three not-so-sharp innings Thursday in relief of Gonzalez, allowing three hits and two runs.

• Henry Rodriguez is scheduled to make his spring debut Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals. The right-hander is returning from August surgery on his pitching elbow. He’s expected to pitch to one batter.

• New closer Rafael Soriano will make his second appearance of the spring Friday after he needed just 12 pitches to work through an inning Tuesday.