PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Gio Gonzalez was sporting a small scar on his forehead after his spring debut.
Had he gotten hit on the head with a ball unbeknownst to reporters? Had he taken a tumble while taking part in fielding drills during a recent workout?
Nope. Gonzalez said the scar was rug burn, the result of a bit of a wrestling match with his French Bulldog, Hollywood.
Credit Hollywood with the pin.
“She gave me a rug burn. I hate her,” Gonzalez said. “And then I love her. And then I look in her face and then I love her again.”
Spring training. Gotta love it.
On to more pressing matters ... Gonzalez worked two hitless innings tonight in his spring debut, walking one and striking out three. The left-hander was making his first game appearance since last October, but it was also his first time on a mound in front of fans since being linked to Biogenesis, the anti-aging clinic that allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to players.
“It’s good to get on that mound again and get back at it,” Gonzalez said. “Especially with the fan support I was getting out there, it’s good to hear that the fans still support you and they still love you. It was a little butterflies. You get the butterflies again, which is a good thing.”
Gonzalez heard fans chanting his name as he came in from the bullpen before the game, then got a nice hand as he walked off the mound after his second, and final, inning of work.
“You don’t know what the reaction is going to be out there with the fans,” he said. “You’re out there pitching in someone else’s ballpark. But when you’ve got a lot of people supporting you and showing you love, I think that means a lot to someone. They appreciate it, and I appreciate it.”
Gonzalez was a bit wild in the first inning. He had trouble locating his fastball, a result of his front shoulder flying open, and walked the second batter he faced on five pitches.
“First inning was like, I gotta find my arm slot, I gotta pick up my target a little earlier,” Gonzalez said. “... It’s trying to pick up the target and stay back. It’s trying to stay closed. Just like a hitter, you want to stay compact and not fly open. That’s the same thing as a pitcher. You want to stay compact, stay closed and picking up your target right on time.”
Gonzalez had a chat with Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty in between the first and second innings, and the two discussed Gonzalez’s need to close his front shoulder. He was much better with the fastball in the second, using the heater to get both Jamie Hoffman and John Buck on strikes.
While the fastball wasn’t sharp early, Gonzalez’s curveball certainly was. He spun in a handful of sharp curves, striking out Ike Davis with one for the second out in the first. Gonzalez was asked if he was surprised his curve was that tight this early in spring.
“No, I’ve always felt confident with my curveball,” he said. “That’s always been my plus pitch that I’ve gone to. It was fun to go out there and try to snap it, work on it, but when you’re getting the results ... and getting that right off the bat, early, it means a lot. It’s pretty exciting to see that.”
Gonzalez will have two more starts with the Nats before he leaves to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He insists that he’s ready for tournament play, and doesn’t need to focus on anything specific in his final Grapefruit League outings before joining Team USA in Miami for a March 12 start.
“I think you still have to go out there and prepare yourself,” Gonzalez said. “You can’t rush what you’ve been doing, your routine. You’ve got to stick what’s been working for you.”
Lately, that hasn’t included wrestling matches with Hollywood.
Update: The Mets put up three runs in the eighth to turn a 5-1 Nats lead into a one-run game, but Washington tacked on one more in the ninth and Ryan Mattheus closed out a 6-4 Nats win.
Steve Lombardozzi went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, Eury Perez went 3-for-3 with three infield singles and Anthony Rendon had a hard-hit single and was robbed of a two-run homer by Mets center fielder Matt den Dekker in his only other at-bat.
Nathan Karns was very sharp in his two innings of work, allowing just one hit and striking out three.
The Nats are now 1-1-1 this spring.