A fiery Gio Gonzalez shuts down Mets, bullpen falters

VIERA, Fla. - After giving up back-to-back walks in the third inning, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez shouted an expletive that could be heard in the left field tiki bar at Space Coast Stadium.

“I have a split personality. I talk to myself a lot,” Gonzalez said, admitting frustration after the game. “Once in a while, you’re going to get a firecracker out of me. The cool thing is learning how to keep your composure knowing that guys are back there telling you, ‘Hey, you’ve got this.’ Even Desi (Ian Desmond) was telling Espi (Danny Espinosa), ‘Hey, take a moment and go talk to him real fast.’ “

A trio of walks and a moment of “earmuffs” was about all Gonzalez did wrong in five scoreless innings tonight as he allowed two hits and struck out five in the Nats’ 8-3 loss to the Mets. The left-hander has pitched brilliantly over his past two outings, surrendering just four hits and four walks with 10 strikeouts while blanking the Tigers and Mets in nine straight innings.

gonzalez-big-smile-red-close-sidebar.jpg“I thought he threw well again,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “Just everything working for him - curveball, changeup, fastball. Good velocity. Working quick. Throwing strikes. All of the things that make him successful, again tonight.

“I think the second half of last year going into this spring training, I think he’s back and there’s no issue with the shoulder. I think he’s strong. He feels good. Velocity’s there, so yeah, it’s as good as I’ve seen.”

The Mets will be at Nats Park for a series to open the season in just 11 days. Gonzalez likely won’t start any of those three games, but still recognizes the difficulty of facing the National League East foe this late in spring training.

“It is tough,” Gonzalez said. “You give them a little extra to see. You always don’t want to give everything you’ve got. It’s kinda tough. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s sweet and sour. You have a good outing, but they see it next time, ‘He did this in certain counts. He did this with certain pitches.’ It’s tough facing division rivals.”

The bullpen struggled tonight, giving up all eight runs on six extra-base hits, including three home runs in just four innings of work.

Right-hander Tanner Roark allowed the game’s first run on consecutive hits in the sixth. He has allowed 10 runs in 10 innings for a 9.00 ERA as he attempts to make the transition from starter to reliever.

“That’s going to be a challenge for him because coming into the ballgame, getting loose fast if need be, not taking that normal time to get prepared as you would as a starter, it’s different,” Williams said. “But he hasn’t mentioned anything, that it’s trying on him.

“The question is just getting him used to it and getting him in games. We’ve had an opportunity to get him in a game where he’s had to pick up the rest of the inning and go back out for the other, so we’ve accomplished that. Given him two innings and beyond, and then tonight was just one. So we’re throwing everything at him in that regard in case we need to go in that direction.”

Lefty Jerry Blevins is in a bit of a funk late in the spring. The relief pitcher entered the game in the seventh with the Nats holding a 3-1 lead. He promptly served up back-to-back solo homers. Blevins has now allowed three longballs in his past two outings and four overall this spring in 7 1/3 innings.

jerry-blevins-throws-red.jpg“It’s just flat right now,” Williams said. “The ball’s flat and it’s not sinking like he wants it to. But he’ll get more opportunity moving forward in the last week or so. He went through a little bit of a stretch like that last year where it just wasn’t getting to where he wanted to get to. Made a minor adjustment to his mechanics, and then everything came. But right now it’s just a little flat.”

Blevins was 2-3 with a 4.87 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings last season, his first with the Nats after being acquired in an offseason trade with the A’s. However, left-handed hitters batted only .160 against him. Blevins was unhittable in the National League Division Series, pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings in critical situations.

The Nats scored all of three of their runs during a two-out rally in the sixth inning. Catcher Wilson Ramos walked and then center fielder Michael A. Taylor doubled him home. Right fielder Clint Robinson followed with another double, scoring Taylor. Robinson crossed the plate for the Nats’ final run on a single by first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. However, the Nats have managed just three runs and 12 hits in the past two games.

Taylor’s double gives him 30 total bases this spring. He’s hitting .326 (14-for-43) with three homers, two triples, three doubles and six RBIs. This was the first time Williams placed him second in the order.

Second baseman Yunel Escobar picked up his second hit of the exhibition season on a ground ball up the middle. He’s now 2-for-8 through his first three games after missing most of the spring with an oblique strain. Escobar was able to turn a couple of double plays and has looked solid in the field so far as he continues to familiarize himself with his new position.

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