WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Gio Gonzalez might as well have been speaking for every ballplayer (and perhaps a few reporters) when he summed up today’s rough outing - eight runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings - in simple terms that can be applied to lots of matters that take place in spring training.
“There were more positive results than what we saw out there,” the left-hander said. “Don’t read into what you see. It’s all B.S.”
It’s easy to say that after a bad start, of course. Why would Gonzalez want to make a big deal out of his 94-pitch slog through the Astros lineup, which included a Josh Reddick homer, a Reddick triple and four unearned runs?
But in the bigger picture, it’s worth remembering that very little that transpires down here in March translates into what you’ll see up north in April. And if you need a reminder of that, here’s some hard evidence ...
* Last spring, in his final start in Florida, Gonzalez allowed five runs in five innings. He proceeded to go 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA in April, setting the tone for his best regular season since 2012.
And this doesn’t only apply to Gonzalez. Look at other members of the Nationals rotation ...
* Stephen Strasburg had a 6.61 ERA last spring. He was 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA in April, then continued to get better as the season wore on and wound up a Cy Young Award finalist for the first time in his career.
* Max Scherzer made only three starts last spring, hampered by a lingering ring finger injury that briefly forced him to alter his fastball grip. He had a 2.94 ERA in April and went on to win his second straight and third overall Cy Young Award.
* And on the flip side of the argument, Tanner Roark headed north one year ago feeling great about himself after posting an 0.73 ERA in the Grapefruit League and helping lead Team USA to a gold medal in the World Baseball Classic. He wound up struggling through the worst season of his career.
Suffice it to say, nobody in a position of authority with the Nationals was stressing out over Gonzalez’s subpar start today.
“I don’t really worry about the results down here,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I just want him to get his pitches. He threw the ball well. We didn’t play defense behind him, let’s put it that way. He had some innings there where he could have got out of it without giving up any runs. But I like what he’s doing. I know he’s still working on stuff. ... But hey, he got his 90-plus pitches, so that was good.”
The last few days haven’t produced a whole lot of crisp baseball around here. Scherzer and Strasburg each labored in their starts. The lineup regulars haven’t produced much. And defense has been sloppy at times.
Martinez actually tried to convey the message this morning that it’s time for everyone to start getting themselves in a regular season mindset. He hired a local DJ to set up next to the practice fields and pump out dance music before the morning workout. Various players were coerced into the center of the daily “Circle of Trust” and showed off their moves.
Martinez called it “Turn it Up Day,” subtly reminding the players the final countdown to the regular season has begun and now is the time to increase the intensity level and attention to detail.
That they promptly went out and got steamrolled by the defending World Series champs wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the message, but the rookie manager wasn’t terribly bothered by it.
“No, this time of spring training goes either-or,” he said. “Guys are ready to go. I know that. Sometimes they hit that lull, like: ‘Hey, I’m ready.’ They get afraid of hitting that peak, and then all the sudden the season starts and you kind of flatten out. I get it. I’ve been there as a player, and I’ve been on good teams that have done the same thing. But overall I think we’re ready. ...
“I’m proud of them. They worked all spring really hard. So I’m looking forward to March 29.”