Associated Press photo
Gio Gonzalez allowed three runs over five innings today against the Marlins.
Three runs, four batters reaching base and a whopping pitch count of 28? After getting pounded for eight runs on 10 hits and four walks in only 3 2/3 innings Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium? Was there any reason to be concerned about Gonzalez's arm?
Turns out the answer was a resounding no. After making a mechanical tweak at the advice of pitching coach Steve McCatty and third baseman Mark DeRosa, Gonzalez turned his entire afternoon around and wound up encouraged by the results.
What was the tweak? McCatty and DeRosa told Gonzalez he was "flying open" with the right side of his body instead of keeping his shoulders closed as he stepped toward the plate.
"After that, I settled in, stayed back, kept my shoulders in and just felt like I was more on top of the ball and wasn't flying open," Gonzalez said. "There's a lot of positive things that came out of that first inning. I'm glad that I settled down and stopped the bleeding immediately."
Indeed, Gonzalez was a much different pitcher over the final four innings of his start, scattering four more hits, retiring seven of the last eight Marlins batters he faced and finishing with six strikeouts.
"He was feeling a little frisky and he started overthrowing," manager Davey Johnson said of his starter's first inning. "Then he settled in and started pitching, which was great."
Gonzalez still has a few things to work on before he takes the mound April 7 at Wrigley Field for the Nationals' second game of the season against the Cubs. Most notably, his offensive game, which leaves plenty to be desired.
The career American Leaguer is still getting used to batting in National League games, and it showed today when he couldn't successfully get a third-inning bunt down. He fouled off all three attempts, awkwardly stepping toward the pitcher as he stabbed at the ball.
"I don't know why I was jumping out of the box instead of staying there waiting for the ball to get there and laying it down," he said. "But if you look at it, it was solid where the ball should have hit the bat. I felt like it just was missing by an inch. It's a minor adjustment. It's minor stuff that I can work on, but it's good to know that I got it out of the way today and not during the season."
Gonzalez is scheduled to make one more start this spring, and it will come in an all-too-familiar setting. He'll once again make the 1-hour, 45-minute bus ride from Viera to Jupiter on Sunday for his fourth start of the spring inside this ballpark, his third against the Cardinals.
"That's pretty hard," he said. "It's what it is. They have a knowledge, I have a knowledge. Hopefully it works together."