- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

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 first 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 with little issue in the Nationals’ 5-2 victory. He and 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 impressed by Gonzalez’s power as well as his curveball, which Nationals manager Davey Johnson called “nasty.”

Gonzalez and the six Nationals pitchers who followed were buoyed by a home run from Jayson Werth in the second inning, a two-run double by Chad Tracy in the third and another home run from Mark DeRosa in the fourth.

It was DeRosa’s first home run since Feb. 28, 2011, against the Milwaukee Brewers in spring training. DeRosa didn’t homer in 47 regular-season games last year as he continued to struggle with a wrist injury.

Morse a late scratch

Nationals outfielder Michael Morse was scratched from Tuesday’s game roughly 40 minutes before the first pitch because of a right lat strain. Morse had felt tightness under his shoulder blade for the past few days, but Tuesday was the first day he was set to play the field and throwing caused him some discomfort.

The left fielder, who was the team’s designated hitter Sunday and did not play Monday, appeared unconcerned Tuesday. He is listed as day to day.

“I’ve felt it a couple days now,” Morse said, noting that the strain does not bother him when he’s hitting or running. “My back just felt kind of tight. … I asked them, and there’s no reason to push it this early.”

Morse described the strain as feeling “like a little knot” underneath his shoulder blades and said he’d been icing it under the trainers’ orders to allow the area to “relax and settle down.” The Nationals will see how Morse is feeling Wednesday and go from there.

Because of Morse’s unexpected absence, Bryce Harper started in right field and played all nine innings while Brett Carroll, the original right fielder, started in left.

LaRoche still sitting

Adam LaRoche had planned to play in his first game Wednesday at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, feeling confident enough in his sprained left ankle and surgically-repaired left shoulder to open his spring slate. But Johnson said later that LaRoche would most likely not start Wednesday, preferring to hold him back until Thursday.

The first baseman, who underwent labrum surgery last June, may get an at-bat or two Wednesday, Johnson said.

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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