PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - There wasn’t much not to like about Gio Gonzalez’s spring debut tonight at Tradition Field.
He pitched two clean innings, worked on fastball command, showed off a sharp, bending curve and left his manager, Davey Johnson, impressed.
“Gio was great,” Johnson said. “He had a little rough first inning with an error behind him. He threw 25-something pitches in the first inning. But he was real efficient, more like himself in the second. And that was all he needed, because he’s got three outings before the World Baseball Classic.
“So he went two (innings) here, then three and hopefully four and he’ll be ready.”
Gonzalez finished his outing having thrown 34 pitches. Ideally, Johnson would have gotten Gonzalez closer to his 45-pitch limit for starters their first time out, but he didn’t want to have to pull the lefty in the middle of an inning.
“I’m not going to come out there and hook him,” Johnson said. “He threw the ball pretty good. He doesn’t do a whole lot in the offseason. Next time out, he’ll go for sure three innings and probably 50 pitches. And then four innings and 65, so he’ll be ready.”
The curve is Gonzalez’s bread and butter, and despite it being only Feb. 25, it was on display tonight.
“He had it in his mound work all spring,” Johnson said. “Just a gifted athlete, a gifted pitcher. His fastball runs all over the place. And his curveball is unhittable. He’s right where he left off. ...
“A first time out, he’s throwing 93 with consistent movement. I thought he had a great first outing.”
Gonzalez wasn’t the only Nationals hurler who impressed tonight. Nathan Karns, who was the organization’s minor league Pitcher of the Year in 2012, pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three.
“I saw him in the bullpen (sessions), and I had great reports on him,” Johnson said. “He’s got a great future. He just needs some innings. He was rushing his curveball today, but he was really right on them with his fastball. Explosive fastball. First-pitch strikes. Very impressive for a young man.
“I think he was having a little problem with the curveball. He was jumping out there. But his fastball was so explosive and he was locating it so well, he didn’t need much else. He’s got a great future.”