Even though Gio Gonzalez has already accepted an invitation to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, the Nationals are preparing themselves and Gonzalez for his appearance and time away. They’re preliminarily adjusting his schedule to make sure he gets three appearances before he leaves for Team USA camp, but some within the organization still fear injury.
Nationals Manager Davey Johnson indicated that Team USA coaches have slated Gonzalez to pitch on March 10, the team’s third game of pool play. Johnson’s concern is that Gonzalez gets enough time to build up to that full-fledged start by starting the first spring training game on Feb. 23. Gonzalez would throw only two innings that game and then, on regular rest, throw three innings in the next start. Gonzalez said on Tuesday he wasn’t fearful of injury while playing for Team USA, as he has never had a major injury in his five major league seasons.
Gonzalez would stay at Nationals camp until March 5, two days after Team USA players were scheduled to report, so that team officials could make sure he gets the proper schedule of side pitching work, Johnson said. Johnson is waiting to hear back from Team USA Manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Greg Maddux about their plan for Gonzalez but isn’t worried about the left-hander pitching in the World Baseball Classic.
Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty, however, would have preferred that Gonzalez pass up the invitation because of fear of injury. “I know it’s a great honor for him to go do it, and I know he wants to do and he’s happy about it,” he said. “I understand that. But still, it’s my guy. It’s our guy.
“We’re still juggling how we’re going to do things, because we don’t know the schedule they’re trying to get him on, because their games are going to start pretty soon, too,” he added. “You try to get him in a spot where they see him fitting in their rotation. When we get done it’ll probably look a little different than normal, because we’re going to have to juggle some stuff around.”
A day earlier, on Tuesday, Gonzalez reported to Nationals camp in his usual gregarious demeanor, shared his excitement on being selected for Team USA and addressed the recent cloud of an MLB investigation. He said he has never used performance-enhancing drugs and denied being a patient a South Florida clinic Biogenesis, refuting a Jan. 29 Miami New Times report.
General Manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on Gonzalez and his alleged link to Biogenesis but stated a degree of confidence in the left-hander’s case. “I expect to put his name in the lineup every fifth day,” he said.
Rizzo said the fact that Gonzalez could be facing a 50-game suspension from MLB’s investigation of him, along with other linked players, hasn’t put more pressure on the Nationals’ search to add more starting depth in the organization. (Johnson said Wednesday that the likely first candidate to be a spot starter in the rotation would be left-handed reliever Zach Duke, a former starter.)
“We’re always looking,” Rizzo said. “We always like depth. But it did not intensify with that.”
On hearing about Gonzalez’s alleged connection to the clinic, Johnson wasn’t concerned.
“Knowing Gio, I figured there wasn’t much to it,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know him real well and I know he’s very conscious of taking care of himself. I know all pitchers are looking for always any kind of vitamins or whatever can help you be healthier or whatever. But he takes care of himself real well. I’m sure he wouldn’t do anything that he knew was breaking the rules.”
Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.