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Gio Gonzalez was roughed up for eight runs in 3 2/3 innings today.
Gonzalez may have been dealing with some "dead arm" issues, not uncommon at this stage of spring training. He may have been unfamiliar with St. Louis' lineup and how to approach each batter. He may even have been hindered by his first plate appearance of the year.
Whatever the reason, Gonzalez could take some solace in this fact: At least it happened on March 22, not April 22.
"I'm not going to overload on today and thinking process," the left-hander said afterward. "It's just one of those days. You look forward, and that's it. What happened, it's done."
What happened on a hot and sunny day at Roger Dean Stadium, though, wasn't pretty. Gonzalez labored from the moment he took the mound. Actually, he sensed a rough afternoon ahead while he was still warming up in the bullpen and noticed all of his pitches were up in the strike zone.
"You start telling yourself: 'Now we're going to have to work today,'" Gonzalez said.
The Nationals' No. 2 starter managed to escape the first two innings without suffering major damage, but things began to unravel in the third when he allowed a double to Carlos Beltran, walked Matt Holliday and then gave up a two-run single to Yadier Molina.
Then came the complete meltdown in the bottom of the fourth, in which Gonzalez retired only one of the first eight batters he faced. And that one out came via a sacrifice bunt. The big blow was a two-run homer by Tyler Greene, but two more doubles and two more walks were sprinkled in for good measure.
Under normal circumstances, manager Davey Johnson would have pulled his starter sooner. But it was more important that Gonzalez reached a pitch count of 85, so he remained in the game, suffering more abuse before Johnson finally summoned for reliever Ryan Mattheus to record the final out of the fourth.
"Not real sharp, not real frisky," Johnson said in evaluating his starter. "He just needs to get through that period. It's all about getting to that first start of the season."
Gonzalez entered the game with a sparkling 1.42 spring ERA, and that didn't even include the four scoreless innings he threw March 11 in this same ballpark before a monsoon struck, cancelling the game and erasing all accumulated stats.
So what was the difference today? In addition to having trouble keeping the ball down in the zone, Gonzalez mentioned his unfamiliarity with the Cardinals lineup as a factor. He also mentioned the fact he had to step to the plate to bat for the first time, something that will become part of his regular routine now that he's in the National League.
"That up-and-down process kind of takes a little bit off you," he said. "And you start realizing: 'I'm going to be doing this a lot.' I think personally there's things I want to go back and work on."
Gonzalez will have five days to figure things out before he takes the mound again Tuesday against the Marlins.
Until then, "This is definitely a learning process for me."