Gio Gonzalez’s second start of the spring started with dominance in a 7-4 loss to the Houston Astros in Viera. He struck out the first five batters he faced, fanning back-to-back hitters looking in the first inning with fastballs. He looked sharp, but that quickly evaporated, starting with the sixth batter of the game.
Astros prospect George Springer hit a chopper back up the middle that Gonzalez couldn’t reach and second baseman Zach Walters fielded, but not in time. Now, Gonzalez was pitching out of the stretch, which he said he hadn’t done in some time.
“It was one of those pitches where you throw the pitch right where you wanted, it just bounced over your head, and the next thing, you’re pitching from the stretch,” he said. “I think it’s one of those things you learn from. That’s what spring training’s all about.”
Gonzalez then coughed up a long two-run home run to Carlos Corporan to right field. Then he walked L.J. Hoes, allowed a double to Gregorio Petit and hit Dexter Fowler in the foot with a pitch. He went from a five straight strikeouts to five straight baserunners in an instant. Gonzalez attributes the change to the aggressiveness of the Astros hitters to counter his aggressiveness. Manager Matt Williams agreed that Gonzalez was being aggressive.
“He was just pounding the zone,” Williams said. “I thought he threw really well. Fastballs in to the right-handers. He just left one out over. That happens. But threw his curveball for strikes. Fastballs on both sides. I thought he was really good.”
Other than the curveball that hit Fowler, Gonzalez said he has a good feel for his curveball at this point in spring. Despite the runs allowed, Gonzalez was pleased with how he feels so far.
“Arm feels 100 percent great,” Gonzalez said. “I think that’s the most important part. I felt like I was attacking the strike zone. I felt like I was being aggressive, and when the season starts, obviously there will be a point when you get to work on certain things and setting up hitters and doing stuff the right way.”
>>> It is only spring training, but Rafael Soriano hasn’t looked sharp. He pitched the sixth inning and allowed five runs on five hits and struck out two. He didn’t hold a runner at second base and Jonathan Villar stole second with one out. Astros minor leaguer Japhet Amador, who is listed as 6 feet 4, 315 pounds, hit a hard comebacker to Soriano, who deflected it into center field.
After that, Williams emerged from the dugout and pulled from the game. Through 1 2/3 innings this spring, Soriano has allowed seven runs on eight hits. Williams insists he is not worried.
“I’m concerned about he feels, not necessarily the results,” Williams said. “He’s gonna get a few outings this spring and I want him to progress arm strength-wise every time. So I asked him when I went out there, how did he feel. And he said he felt good other than the results. That’s all I’m concerned about right now.”
Soriano normally eases himself into the season with a slowly paced spring training. He will only throw between eight and nine innings this spring, a way to keep his veteran arm fresh during the season. Before Soriano was pulled from the game, his body language wasn’t upbeat. According to a scout, Soriano’s fastball sat between 89 and 91 mph, near his average velocity from 2013.
“He looks fine,” Williams said. “Threw a couple good breaking balls down out of the zone. But I’m not concerned with his results right now but that his arm strength is improving and that he’s upping his pitch counts and he’s ready to go when it matters.”
>>> Walters started at second base, a position he hasn’t played since 2011. He notched a hit and drew a walked, and make a quick turn at second base to help complete a double play. Williams said Walters was nervous about playing second, but was pleased with his performance. Walters will play second again in a few days, Williams said, a way to help increase his versatility.
“He did fine,” Williams said. “He used the bag to shield himself and stepped away. Certainly his arm strength will allow him to turn that ball because he’s got really good arm strength. It was good.”
>>> Steven Souza Jr., who started in right field, hit his first home run of the season, a towering solo shot to left field off Mike Foltynewicz.
>>> Tyler Clippard allowed two hits but struck out three in a scoreless eighth inning. Xavier Cedeno, a left-handed competing for a spot in the bullpen this spring, fired another scoreless inning and has five of them this spring.