Gonzalez pumped for his Nationals debut

CHICAGO - After going hitless two days ago in their first rehab appearance of the season, both Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel homered last night for Double-A Harrisburg in the Senators’ 5-2 win over Bowie.

Minor league rehab assignment, major league power.

Ankiel played center field yesterday for Harrisburg, while Morse served as the DH. Morse, who is recovering from a strained lat, will be eligible to come off the DL and return to the Nats as early as Tuesday, while Ankiel could rejoin the major league club April 14.

Gio Gonzalez watched from the Nationals’ dugout Thursday as Stephen Strasburg threw seven innings of one-run baseball against the Cubs, and flashed his trademark smile after the game when asked about Strasburg’s performance.

“He set the tone,” Gonzalez said. “He set the tone for all of us.”

Let’s see if Gonzalez can reach the bar Strasburg set, or even bump it up a little bit.

Gonzalez will make his Nationals debut this afternoon, and seemingly everyone who follows this team is excited to see what the lefty can bring. The Nats know Gonzalez’s potential, which is why they paid such a steep price to obtain the 26-year-old hurler in an offseason trade with the A’s. Now it’s time to see Gonzalez unleash his potent repertoire while wearing a Nationals uniform.

“Obviously, you’re going to get butterflies here and there, but hopefully after the first pitch, it just goes away,” Gonzalez said of making his Nationals debut. “I was talking about that the other day with my dad, where you’re going to get those jitters, you’re going to get those butterflies. But after the first pitch, I think you’re going to settle in and just get going. Back to baseball.”

Gonzalez was able to learn about the Wrigley Field conditions by watching Strasburg pitch on opening day, which should help him on the mound today. Normally, Gonzalez tries to limit the number of balls hit in the air, but in Chicago, with a stiff wind blowing in from the outfield, that strategy changes.

“For a pitcher, you were hoping for anything in the air, because it was going to be either a routine fly ball or warning track,” Gonzalez said. “One of those things you can learn from.”

As for picking up tendencies of some of the Cubs’ hitters Thursday, Gonzalez joked that not much will carry over from opening day, seeing as how “it’s not fair when you’ve got a guy throwing 99 mph and right-handed.” But Gonzalez will focus on pounding the strike zone, and like Strasburg, will aim to keep his pitch count low.

“Hopefully I can just locate the ball,” Gonzalez said. “Do my job, spotting it up and trying to get some early contact. Obviously, this is an aggressive-hitting team from what I saw, so hopefully I can make it happen when it comes down to it.”

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