Gio Gonzalez ducked his head, putting his chin to his chest and his eyes to the pitcher’s mound dirt. No matter how often he had envisioned his debut start for the Nationals, it surely had never unfolded in his mind like this: the game not half over, the scoreboard chocked with crooked numbers, his manager trudging to the middle of the diamond to end his day.
In his first start with the Nationals, a 7-4 comeback win over the Cubs, Gonzalez could not get out of the fourth inning. He flashed the pitching arsenal that convinced the Nationals to ship four prospects to the Oakland Athletics to acquire him, striking out five and twirling boomerang curveballs. But he also allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks in 32 / 3 innings, laboring to throw 74 pitches.
In his one at-bat, his first with a National League team, Gonzalez smoked a line drive to center that forced Marlon Byrd to a make a running, over-the-shoulder stab.
“I think Gio had his hitting shoes on, not his pitching shoes today,” Johnson said. “But he’s going to be fine.”
Gonzalez had no qualms about his day, and in fact had the opposite reaction.
“It was exactly what I wanted,” said Gonzalez, who credited the Nationals’ bullpen for the win. “I was in the strike zone. I felt like I was in the strike zone. I felt like I was getting contact, making the guys swing the bat. I was working the way I wanted to work. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing that I did today. I felt like I was attacking the strike zone. They just got some good hits that landed where they needed them to land.”
If Gonzalez was in the strike zone so much, how did he walk three batters and throw more than one-third of his pitches for balls? Johnson thought home plate umpire Kerwin Danley had a tight strike zone.
“They had good eyes today,” Gonzalez said. “Can’t explain that. Good-hitting team and good eyes. I felt like I was there. I was attacking the zone.”
After Stephen Strasburg gave an 82-pitch, seven-inning lesson in efficiency on opening day, Gonzalez threw eight fewer pitches and recorded 10 fewer outs. The only concern about Gonzalez throughout his career has been his walk total, 4.1 per nine innings each of the past two seasons. He also threw 16.9 pitches per inning.
Saturday, Gonzalez was not worried about that – or anything else, really.
“Again, that’s not a big thing for me right now,” Gonzalez said. “I felt great. The whole thing was staying healthy, staying strong. And definitely what I said was attacking the strike zone. Like I said, I wouldn’t change a thing today. Just got to move forward. Tip your hat. Today was a good win. And that was the positive thing about today.”