Associated Press photo
Gio Gonzalez tossed three scoreless innings today against the Braves.
Does Gonzalez usually hit 95 mph the first time he takes the mound for spring training?
"No," he said. "I'm always at 105."
The left-hander cracked a wide smile, and why not at the end of a very impressive debut performance in the Nationals' 5-2 exhibition win over the Braves. Over three sparkling innings, Gonzalez allowed just one hit and one walk, striking out two and consistently throwing his fastball around 92-93 mph (his average velocity last season was 92.8 mph).
But about that 95 mph on a fastball to Freddie Freeman to end the bottom of the first...
"I think their guns were juiced a little bit," Gonzalez said. "So I don't know if it was really 95. But my adrenaline was kicking. My arm felt live."
Whether the readings were accurate or not, the Nationals emerged from the day impressed with what they saw from their new No. 2 starter. Looking every bit like a two-time 16-game winner, he was all jokes in the clubhouse before and after the game but was all business once he stepped on the mound.
"I thought Gio was great," manager Davey Johnson said. "He didn't look very rusty at all to me. Threw the ball good. Had some great curveballs. ... It was fun seeing him. We've got one more guy [Jordan Zimmermann, scheduled to start tomorrow] and I'll feel like we're whole. But he was special."
Gonzalez was admittedly overanxious entering his first start with the Nationals following an All-Star season with the Athletics. Pitching coach Steve McCatty noticed it and told the lefty his adrenaline was kicking in and that he just needed to relax.
Gonzalez cast aside those jitters as soon as he toed the rubber to face a Braves lineup featuring a host of regulars (including Michael Bourn, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward).
This won't be the last time Gonzalez encounters that same Atlanta lineup; the two NL East foes meet 18 times a season, and the Nationals have already locked up Gonzalez to a five-year extension.
"Right off the bat facing one of your division rivals, it's pretty hard," he said. "They're a good-hitting team, you can tell, right off the bat. They're very aggressive hitters, so my job was just to keep the ball down and try to work on just making contact, keep the pitch count low."
But back to that 95 mph heater. The Nationals haven't boasted many left-handers who could dial things up to that level, perhaps only Ross Detwiler last fall and reliever Bill Bray in 2006.
They'll happily take it from Gonzalez.
"I didn't feel it too much, but the gun says what it says," he said. "I guess I'm trying to play tricks on my arm."