- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2015

VIERA, Fla. — Gio Gonzalez smacked his mitt and yelled an unprintable word Thursday night, visibly furious with himself after walking consecutive New York Mets in the third inning.

“That’s good,” manager Matt Williams said. “He’s demanding on himself. I like that.”

At this point in the spring schedule, it becomes easy for players to get stir-crazy, only thinking about Opening Day and a welcome departure from Viera. Gonzalez, however, has maintained his focus. After those two walks, he induced an inning-ending fly ball to get out of the inning. In an 8-3 loss to the Mets, he allowed only two hits and three walks in five innings with five strikeouts.

The left-hander worked five innings Thursday for the first time this spring and has now pitched nine consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. Three of his four starts this spring have been scoreless. He said his previously-injured shoulder feels great. He feels great.

“My swing looks like it’s right on point and nothing has changed,” Gonzalez said sarcastically. “It felt great.”

Gonzalez regularly strikes a balance between being goofy and resolute. Perhaps that’s why he’s already developed a close relationship with Max Scherzer, who shares a similar demeanor.

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On multiple occasions, Scherzer has challenged Gonzalez. In the fourth inning of Thursday’s game, for example, the newcomer told Gonzalez to throw first-pitch strikes in every at-bat, as Scherzer had done the day before. Gonzalez took it seriously.

That’s not to say all of the challenges are serious, however. Earlier this spring, Scherzer motivated Gonzalez to say “meow” nearly a dozen times in a television interview.

“Every challenge Max throws my way, I’m one step ahead of him,” Gonzalez said with a smile.

Williams said he was pleased with Gonzalez’s outing Thursday, specifically his ability to keep the ball down in the strike zone and maintain his velocity. When told about Scherzer’s challenge to throw first-pitch strikes, the manager’s excitement was visible.

“That’s great that they take the time to challenge each other. That’s a wonderful thing,” Williams said. “You can get in your own little bubble sometimes and worry about yourself too much, but Maxie worries about his teammates too. That’s a good sign.”

When asked further about the exchange with Scherzer, Gonzalez said it’s important for each member of the starting rotation to push, and be pushed by, the others.

“If there’s a buffet, I would love to pick out your meal,” Gonzalez said. “If you’ve got an opinion, if you’ve got something, give me it. If it gets me an out, why not listen?” he said. “We have five, six great pitchers that go out there and you can pick their brains all day long and see what they do to get an out and the way they go about their business, the way they pitch on the mound, their body expressions, this and that. There’s so much you can pick up it’s fun to just listen and stay back and listen to them talk.”

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