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Nationals drop 2-1 decision to Braves: Gio Gonzalez sharp in Spring debut

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Washington Nationals' lefty Gio Gonzalez made his first start of the Spring this afternoon in what ended up a 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium. The Nats showed off the leather again on defense...

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Gio Gonzalez reported to Spring Training this year determined to prove that he is over the shoulder issue which led to some struggles last year and the first DL stint of his major league career.

In spite of the shoulder issues, Gonzalez finished the 2014 campaign (10-10) with a 3.57 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 56 walks (3.18 BB/9) and 162 Ks (9.19 K/9) in 27 starts and 158 ⅔ IP.

Gonzalez talked to reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner, upon arriving at camp last month and spoke about the work he'd done to get ready for his fourth season in D.C.:

"'With the shoulder injury,'" Gonzalez said, "'I wanted to take as much time off as possible. I was fortunate to get back in shape and get ready to go. I’m excited to start throwing already and show what my offseason has been about. I haven’t been joking around.'"

Nats' skipper Matt Williams said last week that Gonzalez was more himself by the end of last season, but he understood why the left-hander felt he had something to prove.

"He doesn't want the total result of last year to be what people think of him," Williams said.

"We see beyond that though, we see him coming back from the injury and having a dominant second half. And the way he pitched was more 'Gio.' And I think he would admit that too."

Gonzalez's first start of 2015 in Grapefruit League action today in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium began with a clean, eight-pitch opening frame against Atlanta in which he showed off his curve with a backdoor 0-2 bender that got Braves' second baseman Jose Peraza looking for the second out of the inning.

Braves' backstop Christian Bethancourt drove a high fastball by a diving Anthony Rendon at third for a one-out single in the top of the second, but the 23-year-old catcher was stranded at third two outs later as Gonzalez completed an 11-pitch inning. 19 total after two.

Tanner Roark took over on the mound in the third inning and gave up a one-out single by Braves' shortstop Daniel Castro and a two-run blast by Eric Young, Jr. who turned on a fastball inside and sent it soaring out to right on the wind, yes, but absolutely crushed. 2-0 Atlanta. 16-pitch frame for Roark.

Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Anthony Rendon hit back-to-back singles with two out in the Nats' third, but a weak roller to the mound off Dan Uggla's bat ended Wandy Rodriguez's third scoreless inning of work.

#GG3B to Future #GG1B?:

Roark needed just nine pitches to complete a scoreless fourth. Two innings, 25 pitches. Craig Stammen took over in the fifth and gave up back-to-back one-out singles by Braves' outfielder Zoilo Almonted and shortstop Daniel Castro.

Bryce Harper showed off his arm on Almonte's hit, fielding the sharp single to right when it bounced off the seats jutting out toward right field and firing a throw in behind the runner, who'd turned the corner, but hustled back.

Stammen completed a scoreless, 23-pitch frame in the fifth.

Tony Gwynn, Jr. was thrown out trying to stretch a long fly ball to right into a triple for the final out of the home-half of the fifth inning.

Left-hander Matt Grace's fastball sat in the low 90s, but he struggled with command a little, walking one and giving up a single before striking Braves' catcher John Buck out with a 79 mph 1-2 bender to end a 17-pitch frame.

Evan Meek and Taylor Hill threw scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth, respectively. Eric Fornataro (with some impressive heat) worked into and out of trouble in the ninth.

The Nationals put two runners on with Matt Skole singling off Jake Brigham and Drew Vettleson drawing a walk.

Skole scored on a ground-rule double by catcher Steven Lerud, 2-1, but Vettleson was sent back to third when the ball bounced over the wall in center and Wilmer Difo K'd swinging to end the game. 2-1 Braves.