WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - From his perch in the Nationals dugout, Davey Martinez saw Gio Gonzalez start moving his body around in a manner that suggested something didn’t feel right. And when the left-hander grabbed his side, Martinez had only one thought.
“No, no, no,” the first-year Nationals manager said. “Now’s not the time.”
So Martinez told director of athletic training Paul Lessard the two of them needed to go check on Gonzalez. Lessard, who has been with the club for three seasons, had a hunch based on prior experience with the pitcher that nothing was wrong. But Martinez insisted, so out they went.
By the time they arrived at the mound, Gonzalez was laughing.
“I know this is our first rodeo together,” he told the skipper. “But I do that a lot.”
“Well, I don’t like it,” Martinez replied. “Don’t do that to me.”
Suffice it to say, Gonzalez and Lessard were right. Nothing was wrong. Gonzalez simply was stretching himself out after having just run toward first base to scoop up a groundball.
“Especially now, I’m up in age, so that movement comes in more,” the 32-year-old pitcher said. “When I got on the mound, I was just trying to get a feel for it, trying to get loose again.”
If nothing else, Martinez will now have a better understanding of Gonzalez’s sometimes unique mannerisms on the mound. Not that he needed to show off many of those today during a strong, five-inning start against the Cardinals.
Gonzalez’s lone mistake was a 3-2 fastball to Jedd Gyorko in the top of the fourth that wound up in the left field bullpen. Otherwise, he cruised along, scattering four hits and a walk and never letting a St. Louis lineup that included several regulars string much of anything together.
Gonzalez remained in the game after the non-injury scare, watched as teammate Anthony Rendon made a diving snag of José Martinez’s hard grounder to third and ended the inning in style. As he walked off the field and returned to the dugout, the lefty again had a smile on his face.
With a 2.70 ERA over 10 Grapefruit League innings now, the Nationals have little reason to be worried about Gonzalez.
Nor do they have reason to be worried about Erick Fedde, who took over for Gonzalez in the top of the sixth and nearly finished off the game all by himself. The organization’s top pitching prospect didn’t quite get there; he had to be pulled with two outs in the ninth and his pitch count rising. But it was another strong performance by the right-hander in a spring full of them.
“Today I felt there were a lot of pitches where everything clicked,” Fedde said. “There’s still some work to do. There at the end it got a little hectic. I don’t know if I just got a little gassed or what. But I saw what I wanted, that’s the good sign from here.”
The Nationals like what they’ve seen from Fedde for the last month. He now sports a 2.84 ERA over 12 2/3 innings (second on the club only to Max Scherzer) and has put to rest concerns about the state of his arm after he dealt with a drop in velocity and a flexor mass strain in his forearm late last summer.
Has this performance changed the way the organization views the competition for the No. 5 starter’s job?
“I think highly of him,” Martinez said. “He’s really good. He’s really young. We’re going to keep building him up. We haven’t made any decisions on the fifth starter’s spot. But I like Erick a lot. And I know with his injury last year, we’ve just got to be very careful.”
Fedde’s fastball velocity, which had plummeted to the high 80s last August, is now back up in the mid-90s. That, combined with some experience gained in the big leagues, leaves him feeling much better about himself.
“I can see the guy I know I am out there on the field,” Fedde said. “I feel comfortable. I feel confident going at hitters. And this spring training has been one I’ve been very happy with so far.”
Whether it’s enough to overtake A.J. Cole for the final spot in the opening day rotation remains perhaps this camp’s biggest lingering question.
“I’m really going to try to stay out of that,” Fedde said. “My job is to go out there on the field and make this as tough for them to make this decision as possible. There’s a lot of things that go into it, and I understand that. But I’m just going to try to prove my case every day.”