JUPITER, Fla. — Baseball fundamentals request players look at their targets before they throw. Most do, as it is traditionally a prerequisite to even moderate accuracy.
But as pitchers hone windups, check baserunners, turn and twist and load, sometimes they look away. Many major leaguers are inconspicuous culprits, including Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, whose smooth, pronounced delivery included a quick look down as he raised his leg. New pitching coach Mike Maddux pointed it out to him. Friday, as he threw two scoreless innings with a bit more bustle than usual, Gonzalez tried to implement the fix in the Nationals’ 5-4 loss to the Marlins.
“No more looking down, looking away, more just picking up the target,” Gonzalez said. “So it was a little different for me.”
Gonzalez said he was extreme in his implementation, in order to see what results might follow. He threw 27 pitches, 17 strikes, and allowed two hits. He did not walk a batter, and seemed to hurry back to the mound between pitches — though he joked that was just because these spring training road trips are “long enough as it is.”
When Gonzalez was done, Maddux asked him to sit in the dugout and watch Bronson Arroyo — who has a reputation as a reliable strike-thrower — pitch his two innings.
“The whole time, Bronson was picking up his target, staying on track,” Gonzalez said. “..That’s something you can watch and learn from a guy when you pound the strike zone and he’s being aggressive in there.”
Arroyo pitched in a game, against hitters not on his own team, for the first time in nearly two years Friday. He threw two innings, and escaped the first unscathed. He struggled in the fourth inning, allowing two runs on four hits with a fastball measured in the low-to-mid 80s.
“I think I learned that I feel relatively normal out there. All the old stuff comes back,” Arroyo said. “I’d like to get my breaking ball a little sharper, and also I just need stamina. That’s really what I need, is stamina.”
Arroyo said he began to feel fatigue midway through his second inning after a moderately stressful first. Fatigue begat wildness — more in the strike zone than missing it entirely — and Arroyo began allowing hits. He has said all spring that his ability to bounce back will determine his future here, and whether he is truly healthy.
“I think the next two days will give me a real good indication,” Arroyo said. “Usually after you throw those first day and a lot of times even the second day can be worse. Waiting to see how much damage you’ve done for yourself, can you still play long toss? Can you try to turn it back around? If I can do that, play long toss in a couple of days and feel decent in your bullpen then I think were kind of moving in the right direction. Now if you’re so sore you can’t even play catch and get back out on the mound on your start day then you could be in trouble.”