Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard made their spring debuts on Wednesday against a New York Mets split squad team in Viera. Gonzalez was limited to two innings in his first start and allowed only one hit. Clippard pitched the fifth inning and also allowed only one hit. Both were pleased with their results and progress this spring.
Gonzalez was the last of the returning four regular starting pitchers to start a game. He induced three groundouts, two flyouts and struck out one batter. Gonzalez had been anxious to face hitters after throwing bullpen sessions over the past week while he awaited his start.
“My arm feels where I want it to be,” he said. “I feel strong. I feel ready. This team looks great. Our guys look alive.”
Gonzalez hopes to improve a handful of areas of his game throughout the rest of spring. He wants to throw more first-pitch strikes, work on his pickoffs and covering first base, and throw more strikes. Last season, Gonzalez threw a first-pitch strike 60.7 percent of the time, ranked 63rd in baseball and just around the league average. He also averaged 4.04 pitches per plate appearance, the 10th highest total in baseball and above the major league average of 3.83 pitches per plate appearance.
“I wanna go out there and go four innings, five innings with 30, 40 pitches,” Gonzalez said. “That would definitely help out a lot, but again it’s not up to me it’s up to the hitters.”
Clippard, who was delayed earlier this spring with back tightness, said he felt great on the mound on Wednesday. His curveball and change-up are feel pitches, so he still has work to do to get the right feel back this spring, but his fastball has felt strong. So he used that pitch the most in his initial appearance.
Clippard has the most number of innings for a reliever in baseball over the past three seasons, so he is pacing himself this spring again. In the offseason, he and his trainer are careful to take care of his arm and avoid any activity that may irritate it. He reported to camp feeling stronger than in recent seasons, the result of finding the right balance of offseason work with his trainer.
“This year, my arm has felt probably better than it has in a long time this time of year,” Clippard said. “Usually, it takes me a little while to get the joint moving again, I guess. But this year’s been really good. My arm’s felt really good. So just trying to kinda maintain and keep building up to the season.”
Clippard said he told the pitching coach Steve McCatty that he needs only 10 innings this spring to feel ready for the season. He may appear in back-to-back games only once.
“I don’t need too much,” he said. “I’m going to get plenty of work in the year, as long as I’m ready as far as my arm health and fine-tune some things. But I don’t need a lot.”
>>> The Nationals hit four home runs in Wednesday’s 11-5 win. Matt Skole crushed a two-run shot in the eighth, Brian Goodwin hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning and Sandy Leon drilled a three-run shot to deep right field in the eighth. Ian Desmond hit a solo home run in the third inning, hitting a fastball over the middle to deep right-center. It was Desmond’s second home run of the spring. He is 4 for 10 this spring.
“He’s doing what he wants to do,” Manager Matt Williams said. “He’s up there with an approach even though it’s early. And he’s been working with [hitting coach] Rick [Schu] a lot. He wants to be competitive with the other side of the diamond. You saw that today. Wants to be able to drive balls into the gap, opposite and backspin balls to his opposite side. So that’s what he is working on in batting practice and in his cage work. … His work ethic has been fantastic.”
>>> Zach Walters was scheduled to start at second base but was scratched just before the game with flu-like symptoms, Williams said. Jeff Kobernus is still dealing with the flu, too, and didn’t feel well after workouts.
>>> Williams said he was unsure when the first round of cuts could come. With the flu bug making its way through the clubhouse and a split squad game on Saturday, Williams said the Nationals may keep players for the time being. The cuts could come, however, after that.
>>> Left-handed prospect Matt Purke struggled some in his second outing of the spring and couldn’t escape from a jam in his two innings of work. He allowed three runs on five hits, walking one and striking out two. Williams said he liked the quality of some of Purke’s pitches despite the results. He has allowed seven runs in 3 1/3 innings.
>>> Left-hander Jerry Blevins pitched a scoreless inning in his second outing of the spring and looked solid, especially against right-handed batters who look off balance when facing him.