After Gio Gonzalez’s start today, the talk did not center on Gonzalez’s seven strikeouts in five innings, the performance that made him feel “95 percent” ready for his first Nationals regular season in six days. No, it centered on the single he flared into shallow center field, Gonzalez’s first hit since high school.
Gonzalez started joking about his impotence as a hitter all spring, having come from the American League’s Oakland A’s. And he had shown no flashes of competence at the plate all spring. When he got his first hit today, he ran to first and rooted his right foot on the corner.
After the inning, Carlos Beltran and Gonzalez passed one another on the way to their respective dugouts. “At least round the base,” Beltran told Gonzalez. “Don’t stop.”
Gonzalez then gave third base coach Bo Porter a double-high five and smiled like a Little Leaguer until he took the mound for the next inning. Gonzalez had more success there.
Gonzales concluded his spring by fanning seven Cardinals in five innings. He struck out Matt Holliday flailing at a fastball and buckled Yadier Molina with a curve for strike three. The Cardinals scored a run against him with consecutive doubles by Tyler Greene and Beltran to lead off the fourth, but otherwise scraped only an infield single and a walk.
“Right now, it should be at 95 percent,” Gonzalez said. “I would say it’s at like 100 once the season starts, but again, I feel good. I didn’t know how difficult it was to run around the bases and then go out there and try to get a quick breather and go out and pitch. But other than that, it’s a learning experience for me.”
Gonzalez almost batted again off Jaime Garcia. With two outs in the fifth, he stood on deck. Bench coach Randy Knorr told him, “Get another one.”
“That’d be like hitting the lottery,” Gonzalez replied.
Gonzalez never got the chance, as Wilson Ramos flied out to center field. The Nationals lifted Gonzalez for a pinch-hitter, and so he would have to settle for one hit, and a sparkling final tuneup for the season.
>>> The Nationals reassigned catcher Carlos Maldonado to Class AAA Syracuse, where he split time with, and probably play a little less than, Jhonatan Solano. Maldonado made a nice impression on Davey Johnson, going 6 for 17 with a homer and five walks. “He was like my favorite chair,” Johnson said.
>>> The Nationals have one last game remaining in Florida, tomorrow in Fort Myers against the Red Sox. They will then host the Red Sox on Tuesday at Nationals Park.