VIERA, Fla. - It was a brief but successful first exhibition outing for Gio Gonzalez. The left-hander threw just 19 pitches, 15 for strikes, in two scoreless frames against the Braves. Gonzalez gave up just one hit, a double, and also recorded a strikeout.
“It felt great,” Gonzalez said. “My arm felt fantastic, strong. Shoulder felt great. I wasn’t thinking about pitch count or anything like that. It was just go out there and try to attack the strike zone.”
Gonzalez is coming off a frustrating season in which he landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Left shoulder inflammation bothered him throughout much of the first half of the season and eventually caused him to miss time. His ERA hovered around 4.00 while the shoulder continued to bother him.
“We’ll push him a little longer next time, but he looked good,” manager Matt Williams said. “Good breaking balls for strikes and throwing strikes early. Velocity was there. He looks good and he’s had no issues with the shoulder, which is fantastic.”
Gonzalez was able to recover last year and finished with a 2.77 ERA over his last nine starts. In addition to feeling healthy, Gonzalez said he’s improving by just being around his fellow ultra-talented members of the Nationals rotation.
“Getting good feedback from some of our starting pitchers, just picking their brains and understanding how they go about their business,” he said. “There’s a lot of things as you get older, you start feeling a little wiser. That’s the beauty of spring training - you can always dust off some cobwebs and get back in there and get back to work.”
The day began with news of Denard Span undergoing surgery this morning to repair a right core muscle injury. According to Williams, the recovery period for Span is four to six weeks before he can resume any baseball activities. That means the Nationals need a starting center fielder for opening day and perhaps the first month of the season. Williams said they’ll turn to highly rated prospect Michael A. Taylor to get the majority of the reps in center, along with Tony Gwynn Jr. Taylor is 3-for-5 with a home run in two games so far and is scheduled to play center and leadoff tomorrow when the Nats travel to Jupiter, Fla., to face the Marlins.
But today, it was Gwynn’s chance to prove himself and he responded by going 2-for-2 with a double. Gwynn actually tried to stretch the double into a triple, but was thrown out, barely, at third base after a well-hit ball to right-center.
“My legs got pretty heavy going around second base there,” Gwynn said. “Being that it’s my fourth or fifth day, I’m OK with it for now.”
Gwynn arrived in camp late after signing a minor league contract last Monday. Despite the delayed start, Gwynn has appeared in four of the Nats’ five Grapefruit League games, batting .600 with two walks.
“He’s always been able to hit,” Williams said. “Coming in, he told me he had been working out. He’s ready to go. He’s got a really short stroke. It’s repeatable for him. Great knowledge of the strike zone. He’s just a pro. He knows how to hit.”
Gwynn signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia before last season and was invited to spring training, where he surprisingly made the opening day roster. He struggled, though, hitting a lowly .152 in 127 plate appearances before being released in late July. He ended up signing another minor league contract with the Phillies and made his way back to the majors in early September. He was eventually released by the club after the season.
“I was excited when I got here regardless of whether Denard was hurt or not,” Gwynn said. “When you’re at home and you don’t know if you’re going to get another opportunity to play, when that opportunity comes you’re excited regardless of the situation. The one thing about this organization as I’ve seen from the other side is that they’ve always been pretty good about having depth for these types of situations. I’m just hoping to fill in that role for the meantime.”
Danny Espinosa is now 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk in four plate appearance over two exhibition games batting from the right side against right-handed pitching.
“His timing is just not quite there yet, but that’s to be expected,” Williams said. “The good thing I see is him taking balls out of the strike zone and not swinging at a lot of them that are down below the zone or up. He’s got a good knowledge of it, so the timing will come and that will be better as we go. So far, so good. We warned him not to expect too much initially.”
Williams said Espinosa is also taking additional at-bats on the minor league side, including yesterday when he got as many as seven chances.
Max Scherzer is scheduled to make his second exhibition season start on Tuesday.