(STEVE NESIUS/REUTERS)

In the third inning, Gonzalez heard Mark DeRosa yelling at him from third base. “Stay back a little bit,” DeRosa said. “Stay closed.” Pitching coach Steve McCatty had been saying the same thing, but on the mound, DeRosa’s words clicked for Gonzalez.

“If I can’t see what I’m doing wrong,” Gonzalez said later, “I’m more than happy to listen to one of my position players or a coach.”

Gonzalez made the adjustment – he slowed his delivery and stopped rotating his upper body too early in his delivery. The change allowed him to salvage his start. He allowed no more runs in the final four innings of his start, using 81 pitches overall. He yielded seven hits and a walk, striking out six batters in five innings.

The Nationals and Gonzalez suspected a typical spring training “dead arm” as the culprit for Gonzalez last start. Today, he had the opposite problem, too amped up at the beginning and rushing.

“He was feeling a little frisky and started overthrowing,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Then he settled in and started pitching.”

Gonzalez will make one more start, another trip to Jupiter to face the Cardinals for the third time this spring. (“That’s pretty hard to do,” Gonzalez said.) Gonzalez will make his next start after that April 7 at Wrigley Field.

“I feel like I’m getting there,” Gonzalez said. “I feel like I’m 85, maybe 90 percent there. We’ll see where it goes. Hopefully I can turn it around, and when the season starts I’ll be at 100 percent.”

It has been a solid spring for Gonzalez. Erase that one disaster, and he has allowed four runs in 15 1/3 innings with five walks and 16 strikeouts. His most difficult and most surprising challenge has come “trying to make the adjustment of trying to be a hitter and a pitcher at the same,” Gonzalez said, and another example surfaced today.

In the third inning, Roger Bernadina and Steve Lombardozzi led off the inning with consecutive singles, bringing Gonzalez to the plate with no outs and two on. He squared to bunt against Ricky Nolasco. He showed good patience, pulling the bat back to take three balls. But the three hittable pitches he saw, he bounced foul and struck out.

“On that bunt, I wasn’t thinking too much,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know why I was jumping out of the box instead of just staying there, waiting for it to get there and try to lay it down. If you look at the bat, it was solid, where it should have hit the bat. I don’t know why, it felt like it was missing by an inch. It’s a minor adjustment. It’s good to know that I got it out of the way today, and not during the regular season.”