Gio Gonzalez throwing a simulated game on June 1 at Nationals Park. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Following his second minor league rehab start for Class A Potomac, left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez said he is ready to rejoin the Nationals rotation after being on the disabled list since May 18 with shoulder inflammation. Gonzalez allowed one run on two hits, walked four and struck out seven over four innings in Woodbridge on Thursday night.

Gonzalez improved on his rough first rehab start in which he allowed eight runs and walked four. Thursday, he fired 79 pitches, 45 for strikes, on a night when he had an 80-pitch limit. His fastball sat around 90-91 mph.

“I know I’m ready,” Gonzalez said after his start. “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to slot myself back in there. Arm feels great. I feel like I’m ready to do my part.”

Gonzalez’s command was better Thursday, if not consistent. He effectively moved his fastball around the strike zone and was able to get ahead of batters but wasn’t always able to put them away.

Gonzalez attributed the improved command to a concerted effort to throw breaking balls for first-pitch strikes. When Gonzalez successfully flipped a curveball for a first-pitch strike in the fourth inning, he literally tipped his cap to himself. He said he could iron out any minor issues with tweaks under Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty, and he was pleased with his fastball and change-up.

“Falling behind on them wasn’t an issue, I just wanted to get that first-pitch strike with a curveball so I could have that peace of mind,” he said. 

The positive, however, was that Gonzalez said his shoulder has felt good.

“It feels great,” he said. “No problem. No barking. Nothing. Just here you go. I felt like I was a little more on top of the ball this time. Fastball was coming out with more life. I felt like where I needed to be.”

Gonzalez was originally scheduled to make only one rehab start and return to the majors if there were no issues, but he returned for another and he said he was glad he did. In his previous start, Gonzalez grew tired by the third and fourth innings. Thursday, fatigue was less of a concern.

“The third inning [my arm] started getting a little low,” he said. “I figured after I got out of that inning I said, ‘Here you go. Just throw it and try to bounce back up and try to find your energy level. It’s good to hear from some of these guys saying, ‘You looked even keel the whole time.’ When you hear that, that means you’re making progress and stepping to the right direction. That’s where I was going with it and make sure I didn’t change my emotion or thought negative and kept going forward.”

If the Nationals are happy with Gonzalez’s progress, he could next pitch in the majors Tuesday against the Houston Astros in Washington. But with Monday’s offday, Tanner Roark could likely pitch that day, on six days rest, and Gonzalez could start Wednesday, also on six days rest. This is Gonzalez’s  first career stint on the disabled list and he is anxious to return to the Nationals.

“It just makes you hungry,” he said. “You just want to go out there and play. Just give me the ball and let me pitch.”