“I’ve been around players where you could tell,” said Johnson, citing change in appearance over a winter, mood swings, ’roid rage or, in the case of pitchers, lots of workouts in the offseason when they’re cycling PEDs and want to maximize their improvement.
“I missed it with Raffy [Palmeiro] in Baltimore,” Johnson conceded. “But Gio is always happy, grinning. You never see any mood change, even when he pitched badly or I take him out an inning early.”
Nats coaches have scrutinized his workout and offseason patterns. Instead of the heavy winter workload expected of a juicer, Gonzalez hardly throws at all, usually only once before spring training when almost all other pitchers throw six or seven sessions. How does he do it? “Gio’s just a gifted athlete,” Johnson said, shrugging.
The manager understands why fans would be suspicious and expects Gonzalez to cope with the controversy even if it proves unfair. But he insists his left-hander explodes the profile of a pitcher who uses PEDs.
“You can look at some people and know that they probably aren’t using” PEDs, slope-shouldered vet Adam LaRoche said. “For example, me. And Gio.”
The worst-case scenario — a positive test and a 50-game suspension — would throw all this talk in the trash. That could happen. The rule in baseball now: Suspicion is wiser than gullibility.
For now, however, Gonzalez is entitled to something more than just the benefit of the doubt that we accord anyone whose reputation is cast in doubt without conclusive evidence. To date, the only Gonzalez with a Biogenesis connection is Gio’s father, Max, who acknowledges buying anti-aging products from the clinic. There’s also a photo of Gonzalez with a Miami trainer who’s entangled in the web. That connection may need more light.
Dark clouds, threats of rain and chill winds have muted the mood of the Nats’ first two spring training workouts. That seems an appropriate metaphor for their 21-win southpaw who is under his own cloud and probably will remain there, at least in the public mind, until he passes every MLB test, then reproves himself on the mound this summer.
No one has a Cheater Detector. You just let things play out. Sometimes the news is so bad and unexpected that the most jaded are still stunned. If Gio is dirty, the Nats will be in that flabbergasted category. Take it for what it’s worth: The Nationals are certainly annoyed. But they don’t seem worried.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.