Assuming apparently that catcher Kurt Suzuki would reach base, Washington Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez turned to Nats' skipper Davey Johnson before a fifth inning at bat in last Wednesday's game with the Miami Marlins. "He said something," the 70-year-old skipper told reporters after the game, "'You want me to get him over or go deep,' that's what he said, and I said, 'Just get up there.' But, I mean, he has a hard time hitting a curve ball, that's what he hit out I think, a curve ball, a hanging curve ball."
The Nationals' 21-game winning left-hander's second career home run came on a curve from the Marlins' Kevin Slowey with no one on base, Suzuki struck out, and it gave Washington a 1-0 lead in a game they'd eventually win 3-0 over Miami for the second of back-to-back shutouts to start the 2013 campaign.
The next morning, before the finale of the three-game series with the Fish, Davey Johnson was asked for a scouting report on his pitchers as hitters and took the opportunity to set the record on straight on Gio's abilities at the plate. "We picked up, although he didn't show it in Spring, Dan Haren," Johnson said, "[He] swings the bat really good. I think he came [in] a close second in the National League when he was [with] the Diamondbacks, he was real close to getting it there, but he's a good hitter. And [Ross] Detwiler's swinging the batter better. Detwiler... is awful. But all of them-- [Jordan Zimmermann] swings, you know, everybody in the lineup swings the bat pretty good now.
"Gio," Johnson said referring to the home run, "That was just luck, I wouldn't put him in that category yet." Asked if his pitcher was still smiling twelve hours after the last game, Johnson said he hadn't seen Gonzalez. "I haven't run across him, but I'm sure he'll be grinning from ear to ear."
Ryan Zimmerman's word association answer for Gonzalez was "Smile."
"Smile. Laugh. Charismatic," Zimmerman told MASN's F.P. Santagelo, describing the pitcher exactly as he comes across in public. Gonzalez also has a habit of giving all the credit to his teammates as he did after his first start of the season last week in a postgame interview on MASN. Gonzalez dealt with a bad headache before the game, but was able to get past it and go 6.0 innings in which he threw 91 pitches, 55 for strikes and gave up two hits and two walks, while striking out five and inducing eight ground ball outs from the 21 batters he faced. With the cold weather he had trouble getting a grip on the ball.
"It was just one of those things where I was constantly trying to find some grip," Gonzalez said, "Somehow, some way. The rosin bag. Licking the fingers. But it felt good after that. [Kurt Suzuki] finding the strike zone and definitely letting the defense do all the talking. A lot of ground balls to the infield and letting them work."
Davey Johnson told reporters afterward he was worried about Gio Gonzalez's headache before the game, but impressed by the way his pitcher performed once he did take the mound. "He made pitches when he had to," Johnson said, "He threw a lot of pitches one inning, but other than that he was good. Again, if it wasn't a cold night I probably would have gone further with him." After returning from the team's trip to Cincinnati, Gonzalez was happy to be back in a much warmer Washington, D.C. today with the day off before tonight's game against the Chicago White Sox:
Crazy how perfect the weather is #DC— Gio Gonzalez (@GioGonzalez47) April 8, 2013
Gonzalez is (0-4) in five career starts vs the White Sox, with a 5.86 ERA, 22 walks (7.15 BB/9) and 24 Ks (7.81 K/9) in 27.2 IP, though he hasn't faced the AL Central team since June of 2011.