KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Ideally, Gio Gonzalez would have worked four or five innings against the Astros this afternoon, allowing him to build up arm strength while getting a chance to face as many live hitters as possible before leaving to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Instead, Gonzalez worked just three innings against Houston, throwing 42 pitches (27 strikes) before giving way to Ross Ohlendorf.
Gonzalez was being kept to under 50 pitches today because the Nationals and Team USA wanted to make sure not to violate any WBC pitch-limit rules that would preclude the left-hander from making his scheduled start in the Classic on March 12.
Stephen Strasburg threw 67 pitches against the Phillies yesterday; Gonzalez threw 42 in today's game before tossing a handful more in the bullpen to get in some extra work.
Not a big deal. Most importantly, Gonzalez looked sharp during his time on the mound at Osceola County Stadium, allowing three hits and a walk over his three scoreless frames. He struck out three, including two in his final inning of work.
Gonzalez had to battle a stiff wind his last time out, in a game at Jupiter against the Cardinals, conditions that made it tough for him to get a feel for his off-speed stuff. Conditions today were much better, as the wind barely is playing a factor.
He looked to have a pretty good feel for his curveball, getting Justin Maxwell to strike out swinging on a nasty hammer in the first inning.
Ohlendorf, who is a candidate to take over Gonzalez's spot in the rotation once the left-hander leaves for the WBC, pitched a scoreless fourth.
The Nationals have just two hits through five innings - a bloop double by Corey Brown and a line-drive double off the bat of Chad Tracy - and we've got a scoreless game in the bottom of the fifth.