JUPITER, Fla. - Other than a couple minor bumps in the road, everything had gone pretty smoothly for Gio Gonzalez in his first three spring starts.
Including stats from a rained out game March 11, he'd thrown 10 1/3 innings, allowing just one earned run, five hits and four walks in that time, with 10 strikeouts. That's good for a 0.87 ERA.
In today's 9-0 loss to the Cardinals, things didn't go quite so smoothly for Gonzalez. And that's a massive understatement.
Gonzalez's spring ERA skyrocketed to an unofficial total of 5.79 (again, including the rainout) after today's outing, in which he went just 3 1/3 innings, allowing eight runs, 10 hits with four walks and three strikeouts. The one positive the Nationals can take out of the lefty's start is that he was able to throw 85 pitches, allowing him to stretch his arm out a bit.
"Obviously, Gio didn't have his great stuff, his great location," said manager Davey Johnson, who added that he thought Gonzalez might be going through a bit of a dead-arm period, which can happen at this point in spring. "But he got the number of pitches in that we needed to get him in. Fewer innings than I'd like to see him go, but it's spring. I was happy he got his work in."
Gonzalez said he actually felt like he had decent stuff today, but he never really found a groove against an aggressive-hitting Cardinals team.
After allowing one run in the second inning and two in the third, things fell apart for Gonzalez in the fourth, when he retired just one of the first eight batters he faced, with that one out coming on a sac bunt. The Cardinals batted around in the frame, scoring five runs.
"You're going to have those days, and the good part about today is it's spring training," Gonzalez said. "You work on stuff. Nothing you can do about it but smile and chug along."
One new part of the National League game that Gonzalez will need to adjust to is taking his cuts in the batter's box. He only has two career regular season at-bats coming into this season (both ended in strikeouts), and fouled off three pitches before striking out in his lone at-bat today. Johnson actually hoped to get Gonzalez a second plate appearance this afternoon, but the hurler's turn in the order didn't come around again before he was pulled in the fourth.
"That up and down process kind of takes a little bit off you," Gonzalez said. "Then you start realizing I'm going to be doing this a lot. ... I'm actually going up there thinking, 'Oh, I've got to go up there and swing the bat.' But this is only one of the processes that I've got to keep working with. The hitting department is (something) that we could work on, but it's not something I'm going to dwell about."
Even though Gonzalez got knocked around today, he said he's started filling the memory bank with notes on opposing hitters. Today, for instance, Gonzalez said he was picking up on which Cardinals hitters were being aggressive early in the count.
"This was definitely a learning process for me. With a great hitting team like that, it's definitely a learning process."