Gonzalez’s first blemish a minor one

TAMPA, Fla. - All in all, Gio Gonzalez’s third spring start wasn’t all that bad.

The Nationals’ lefty went just 3 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and three walks and throwing 69 pitches in that time. But he allowed only a single run (his first given up this spring) and struck out six Yankee hitters, including three in a row at one point.

Still, Gonzalez wasn’t thrilled with his outing, calling it “a minor setback.”

There were highs for Gonzalez, like the perfect second and third innings in which he set down six straight Yankee hitters, and lows, like the 32-pitch first inning and the fact that he left the game in the fourth with two runners on base.

“It was definitely a journey,” Gonzalez said. “First inning was kind of up and down. Second inning I kind of found my groove. Third inning was the same situation, found it again, and then the fourth inning I was starting to lose a little fuel and the tank was starting to get a little heavy on me. Just started wearing down. But hopefully within the following week, my conditioning will get better and my arm will get a little stronger little by little.”

You can’t really blame Gonzalez for wearing down in the fourth inning; this was the deepest he’s gone into a game yet this spring, and the mid-80s temperatures in Tampa would have worn on any pitcher. The Yankees opted to take out starter CC Sabathia after three innings of work, but Nats manager Davey Johnson sent Gonzalez out for the fourth to push him a little further.

“I took him to the limit,” Johnson said. “I could’ve shut him down after three like they did with Sabathia. But he’s been throwing so good, just thought I’d stretch him out a little bit. He was fine.”

Gonzalez wasn’t willing to credit the quality of his stuff for his six strikeouts, saying the Yankees hitters helped him out a bit by expanding the zone and taking cuts at pitches up around the letters and down and in. But you could tell he had the ball moving by the number of swings and misses he got today.

Including today and his four-inning effort in a rain-out on Sunday, Gonzalez has now worked 10 1/3 spring innings, and has allowed just one run in that time. He’s given up five hits and four walks, and has 10 strikeouts.

“We’re like halfway through spring training, and obviously they’re working our pitch counts, they’re getting us up there for the season,” Gonzalez said. “But right now, I like to say there’s still more to work on. You can never stay content. My goal is to always stay hungry, go out and compete against the best, and try to stay healthy. My main concern is trying to stay in shape, stay healthy and try to attack the zone.

“Today was a learning curve for me. There’s more stuff I need to work on. Definitely staying in the zone. Can’t work my pitch-count up by walking people. There’s a lot of things I need to work on.”

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