Gonzalez and Roark lead Nats in scoreless tie, Werth still aiming for opening day

VIERA, Fla. - Pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark both turned out their best performances of the spring in today’s unique 10-inning 0-0 tie between the Nationals and Tigers.

Gonzalez worked the count in his favor throughout his four innings, striking out five while allowing only two hits and one walk.

“I think the most I was happy with was how my arm feels,” said Gonzalez. “It feels fantastic. I’m so excited about it. Just talking about it from my last start to now, I was just trying to pound the strike zone.”

gonzalez-gio-red-pitching-away-sidebar.jpgLeft shoulder inflammation sent Gonzalez to the disabled list last season and bothered him for much of the first half of the season. He was also highly complementary of his batterymate today, Wilson Ramos.

“Willy did a great job just giving me a big strike zone to throw at,” Gonzalez said. “It almost feels like he was comfortable sticking with certain pitches that he wanted because he started picking up on my arm slot and what I wanted for him to throw down. That’s a lot of credit to him for sticking to his guns.”

Ramos is heading into his fourth season working with Gonzalez behind the plate. and seemed to also be particularly impressed with the left-hander’s work against the Tigers lineup.

“He threw the ball really, really good,” said Ramos. “He attacked the hitter. His command was pretty good. It was an amazing job by him. He trusted me today and I like when they trust me. We stayed on the same page.”

Nationals manager Matt Williams continually brings up how well Gonzalez pitched down the stretch last year after the shoulder issues. It seems as though Williams still had lingering doubts this offseason on how it would respond once Gonzalez returned to the mound.

“What I like in this spring is the fact that his shoulder feels good,” said Williams. “That he’s 100 percent to go out there and compete. His curveball has been really good. He threw a couple of changeups. He got (Yoenis) Cespedes on a changeup today. All those things are positives for him. The fact that he feels good about it is most important.”

Meanwhile, after struggling through his first three outings of the spring, Roark returned to his 2014 form today. He delivered three strikeouts, while giving up two hits and no walks in two innings.

“I felt like I stopped trying to hit my spots and just let it go and that’s what I’ve always done,” Roark said. “I’m glad to get back to it. The biggest thing would be inside to a righty, trying to paint it in there instead of just letting it go and trusting it. When me and (Nats pitching coach Steve McCatty) Cat had my last bullpen, we talked about it and just getting through it and not cutting myself off.”

Taylor-Throws-Outfield.jpgMichael A. Taylor had a rough day at the plate. Starting in center field in the leadoff spot, the 23-year-old went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He now has 10 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances this season without a walk.

“Just a little bit of over-anxiousness,” said Williams. “He swung at some balls that were not the balls that he wants to hit. That patience will come. For a young player, it’s very difficult because you want to do things right and the game has the tendency to speed up a little bit. The more experience he gets the better. The lack of experience got him a little bit today, but he’ll be better for it tomorrow.”

Left fielder Jayson Werth will see his first game action of the spring tomorrow when he plays on the minor league side of camp. There, the Nationals are able to control games, so Werth will just play the field without throwing and hitting. He will continue his light hitting drills along with his throwing program on the side.

“It’s coming along, I don’t want say moving slowly because I feel like it’s progressing fast, but when your goal is opening day and you watch your guys go out and play every day and you’re sitting here not being able to play, I feel like it’s moving slow. But at the same time it’s progressing,” said Werth.

Werth still sees opening day as a possibility despite being just over two weeks away. I asked him how many at-bats he needs to feel comfortable before the start of the season.

“Five? Maybe just see a couple before? I don’t know? There’s years where I’ve had 60, 70, 80 at-bats and that wasn’t enough,” said Werth. “There’s years where after the first week of (exhibition) games, I wish the season had started. Either way, whether you hit .400 or .100 in spring training, none of that matters when the bell rings on opening day.”

Center fielder Denard Span began some light throwing while he recovers from abdominal surgery.

Williams announced after the game that the Nationals optioned left-hander Matt Grace and catcher Dan Butler to Triple-A Syracuse, while infielder Wilmer Difo was optioned to Single-A Potomac.

Grace was stellar this spring, not allowing a run with three strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.

“He’s got a good sinker, good changeup and working on a slider, but the ball moves a lot so for a left-handed pitcher, that’s key,” said Williams. “And he throws it to both sides of the plate. I was impressed.”

Difo, 22, posted a .318 batting average in 24 at-bats during the exhibition season, while playing both second base and shortstop.

“He has the ability to do a lot of things on the baseball field that can help you win,” said Williams. “He’s got good speed. He’s a good baserunner. He’s going to play a lot of second and a lot of short, mostly short - probably to get a better feel for that. But he can handle a fastball and that’s the first and foremost that you look for from a young player, the fact that he can compete at this level anyway against some big league starting pitching on the fastball and he’ll make the adjustments as he goes. But a pretty special talent.”

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