Gio Gonzalez is a strikeout, power pitcher who throws a hard fastball paired with a change-up and knee-buckling curveball. On Saturday, his second start of spring training as he prepares for the season and the World Baseball Classic, Gonzalez allowed only five hits and two runs over three innings of a 6-2 win over the Cardinals — but fanned no hitters. It was only the second time since he reached the majors in 2008 that he failed to record a strikeout in a spring training or regular season appearance; the last time was on Sept. 23, 2008, in relief.
Gonzalez and Nationals Manager Davey Johnson attributed the unusual outing to the weather conditions. The temperature was 66 degrees at first pitch but gusts of wind blowing out to right-center field made it sweatshirt weather and helped carry balls that direction during the first five innings or so.
“For some reason or other the balls were real slippery today and he couldn’t get a good feel on it,” Johnson said. “He didn’t throw many breaking balls, really basically staying with his fastball, until the end of the game. He started getting a little bit of feel for it but I think it was just a little cool and it was a little slippery.”
But more telling than the weather was Gonzalez’s insistence that he was trying to attack the strike zone against the patient Cardinals hitters, an effort to induce more outs by inviting them to put the ball in play. At times, he can be too cute around the strike zone. “Less pitches, more innings,” he described Saturday’s outing.
“They were swinging the bat so I felt like I was in the zone, which is a good thing,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t want to be all over the place and again you can’t be too much in the zone because you don’t them to have good timing on you. Other than that, in and out of the zone where I wanted to be.”
Gonzalez gave up three singles and a run in the span of four batters during the third inning. He gave up a long flyball to slugger Matt Holliday that could have carried further in the wind but was caught at the warning track in center field by Eury Perez for the inning’s second out. Gonzalez smacked his glove during the at-bat, upset at himself.
He explained later that he was “yanking” his body a little bit and trying to overthrow pitches. As a result, he was missing his spot, not attacking the strike zone and falling behind. But his arm strength and body felt good, he said, in his penultimate start before he leaves to join Team USA, if they advance, for his March 12 start.
Saturday’s game was also rematch of last year’s NLDS Game 5 in which the Nationals jumped to a 6-0 lead on Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright only to let it slip away, in part, because of three runs allowed by Gonzalez. After Saturday’s start, Gonzalez said it “good to see familiar faces” again, saying he knows some of the Cardinals players. But as far as clearing a mental hurdle by facing them again, he brushed off that notion.
“I’m pretty sure they were thinking the same way: go out there, try to attack the strike zone and swing the bat,” he said. “Same thing we’re trying to do. It’s spring training again. There’s no rivalry yet.”
>>> Drew Storen has been getting a lot work this spring; Saturday was his third appearance in eight games. That is, however, exactly how he wants it.
He struck out the first batters he faced in the eighth inning, then fought his mechanics against three Cardinals lefties in a row. With a 6-2 lead, he gave up singles to Matt Carpenter and Greg Garcia with two outs and faced the tying run, Justin Christian, with two outs. Storen then induced a pop out from right-hander.
“Drew’s being a little overly analytical and a little deliberate,” Johnson said. “It’s early in the spring, he’s just trying to get comfortable.”
“It’s just how I’ve always been,” Storen countered. “I don’t know. I analyze things really so I can figure out what I need to work on. Maybe every once in a while, I guess.”
Storen isn’t worried as much about the results than he is on the how the pitches come out and his mechanics. He has felt good physically, he said, and he is pleased with his arm strength at this point of the year. “Every time, you just kinda add a little bit more to it and let your body kinda respond to it,” he said. “It’s a process.”
Storen took the mound against the Cardinals for the first time since blowing a save in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS last October. He has said he has moved on from the loss. Asked about facing the Cardinals again but in a different situation, Storen hung his head.
“If it felt weird and was going through my head, then I shouldn’t be out there,” he said. “That has nothing to do with it.”
>>> Sweet-swinging Anthony Rendon is now 7 for 16 with three doubles, two home runs and a team-high seven RBI. He smashed a two-run home run off the center field batter’s eye against Wainwright.
>>> Ian Desmond wanted to work to cut down on his strikeouts this season. In the tune-up to the regular season, he is 6 for 11 with only one punchout. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday, smashing an opposite field, wind-aided solo home run. Chris Marrero also hit an opposite field home run to right.
>>> Ryan Perry, who tired in his last appearance on Tuesday, showed more endurance on Saturday. He tossed three scoreless innings, allowing only two hits. He kept the ball low in the strike zone — a point of emphasis this spring — and induced seven groundouts.
>>> Right-handed reliever Erik Davis, who was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, pitched another scoreless inning. He has thrown 3 2/3 innings in the Grapefruit League, allowing only one hit and striking out four. On Saturday, he struck out one looking, and induced a flyout and groundout. Johnson said this was the sharpest of the 26-year-old’s three spring appearances.
“He looked much more polished today and better command,” Johnson said. “He still really hasn’t used, he has a great change-up. He’s just been spotting his fastball, sinker a little bit.”
>>> Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore have played in each spring training game so far — a concerted effort by Johnson to get the team’s regular bench players a lot of at-bats early. Each went 0 for 3 on Saturday. Lombardozzi dropped to 4 for 22 on the spring and Moore to 6 for 22.
Johnson said he had no issue with either players’ approach at the plate so far. Moore, a power hitter, has seven strikeouts. Lombardozzi — who has only two strikeouts and has gotten some bad luck hitting balls into outs — is being more aggressive this spring, according to Johnson.