Craig Heist, wtop.com
JUPITER, Fla. - Gio Gonzalez defined his start against the Cardinals Thursday afternoon as "a learning experience" and a "step in the right direction."
Gonzalez preferred to look at the positives from an outing that saw him give up eight runs and 10 hits, walking four and striking out three over 3 2/3 innings as St. Louis shutout the Nats 9-0 to fall to 5-11-3 in Grapefruit League play.
Gonzalez struggled with his command and pitched in the zone too much as the aggressive hitting Cardinals made him pay.
The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the second and a fielder's choice run down play which allowed Shane Robinson to score from third. St. Louis got two more in the third on a two-out, two-run single by Yadier Molina.
Gonzalez started to lose command of the strike zone in the fourth. He gave up an RBI double to Tony Cruz to give the Cards a 3-0 lead. Tyler Greene then touched up Gonzalez for a two-run home run which was followed later in the inning by a two-run double by Matt Carpenter.
"There are a lot of things I can go back over with (catcher, Wilson) Ramos and sit down and go over this team and this lineup again," Gonzalez said. "The goofy part about today was that this is a step in the right direction for me."
Gonzalez also found out what life in the National League is going to be like for him as he got his first at-bat of the spring. He struck out against Cardinals left-hander Jamie Garcia leading off the third, one of nine strikeouts of the day for him.
"It's definitely an uphill thing," he said. "That's the learning process of being a National League pitcher. Now I have to swing the bat, I have to work the counts. From the pitching aspect, I have to go up there and start studying some certain hitters on some certain teams."
Manager Davey Johnson knows Gonzalez struggled Thursday with his stuff and even felt his left-hander may be experiencing some dead arm issues at this point of the spring.
"It's more of just this time of the spring," Johnson said. "Some guys have it earlier and try to muscle up. He is so fluid. He was probably feeling it a bit today. Not real sharp, not real frisky."
Whatever the problem was, and keep in mind it's still spring training where no one is really concerned with results, Gonzalez saw his ERA this spring jump to 8.10. He had given up just one run in six innings prior to today.
"What I want to work on is better selection, better pitches, keeping the ball down, learning to hit my spots, mixing it up on certain counts, learning certain hitters who are aggressive right off the bat," he said.
On the other side, Cardinals left-hander Garcia was outstanding. He gave up just three hits and fanned nine over five innings.
The walking wounded
There is no question the Nationals injury situation is starting to become a concern more than they are letting on.
Clean-up hitter Michael Morse has had a second treatment for his strained right lat, possibly a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection and manager Davey Johnson said today that Morse may not be available for Opening Day.
Morse strained the lat on March 6 and then four days later received a cortisone shot. He was able to come back to DH for two games but then was shut down again. Morse originally hurt himself throwing and he was able to begin throwing again from about 90 feet. Now the team has curtailed all of his baseball activity.
Johnson knows missing Morse in the lineup will have an adverse effect as the Nats try to get out of the gate strong this season.
"Well, he's my clean-up hitter," Johnson said. "We're not going to push that to the point where we exacerbate it. This just gives an opportunity to somebody else and that's the game of baseball."
Certainly, having Rick Ankiel back after dealing with a hamstring injury most of the spring is a help but Johnson has also been tinkering with Steve Lombardozzi in left field in the past few days and he is not done evaluating Jason Michaels, Brett Carroll, Chad Tracy and Roger Bernadina.
As for the prime clean-up candidate right now for the skipper.
"I really like Jayson Werth's approach this year, I like where he's at," he said. "I think he's priming for a big year. But it's early. The last time I checked, we got about 14 games left."