Gio Gonzalez wrapped up his Spring with a solid three-inning outing against the Minnesota Twins on a cold day in Nationals Park last Tuesday. Gonzalez threw 37 pitches in that start, giving up a hit and a walk in a scoreless appearance, and the 32-year-old left-hander talked afterwards about dealing with the colder-than-expected weather in Washington, D.C. and trying to do what his catcher, veteran Miguel Montero, and pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, suggested since his stuff wasn’t particularly sharp.
“I was talking to Lilly and Miguel and I was telling them how I felt on certain pitches,” he explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“[Montero] saw a little something and kept telling me ‘Just throw it. This is the time to work on what you need to work on,’” Gonzalez said.
“I felt fine going after hitters. But as far as that, I just felt like I was rushing at times, so that was a big help from Lilly and Miguel.”
Montero, the Nationals’ backup catcher, was behind the dish again on Sunday afternoon for the left-hander’s regular season debut, and Gonzalez once again credited the backstop with helping to guide him through a six-plus inning start in what ended up a 6-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Gonzalez tossed five scoreless to start the game, but gave up a one-out walk (his only one) and RBI double in the bottom of the sixth, then came back out for the Reds’ seventh at 89 pitches and surrendered a leadoff single that convinced manager Davey Martinez to go to the bullpen.
“He got up there in his pitch count, and he pitched really, really well. That’s what we wanted to see out of him,” Martinez told reporters after the game.
“He was attacking the strike zone, going after everybody, so it was good, and I thought at that [point] let him go back out, as soon as somebody got on base we were going to get him out.”
Matt Grace stranded the runner he inherited from Gonzalez, getting three outs on three pitches, and leaving the left-handed starter with just one run allowed in six-plus innings.
Gio Gonzalez’s Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 91 P, 59 S, 4/3 GO/FO.
Gonzalez, according to Brooksbaseball.net, leaned on his two-seamer, throwing 31 total, 23 for strikes, generating 17 swings, four swinging strikes, and 16 strikes not put in play with it, which was Montero’s doing as the left-hander explained.
“It’s the first time I felt pretty good with all of my pitches,” Gonzalez said.
“I wasn’t feeling like that in Spring Training, and then when it started, everything felt getting on top of pitches, and working great, but again, that’s credit to the catcher. Miggy saw that ahead of time, and he figured we’d use that because it’s what’s working, and then he was very aggressive with all the pitches. So that’s a credit to him and the pitching coach, they were all over that.”
Though he hasn’t worked with Montero much, since the catcher signed late this Spring, Gonzalez said he trusted the catcher enough that he didn’t need to shake off too many pitches in their first regular season outing together.
“I just figured a guy with experience he knows what he wants,” Gonzalez explained.
“And I may have shook him off maybe two or three times, but it was on certain pitches I wanted to work on and try to see if I can get that over, but as far as that he was consistent in what he wanted, and I like the fact that he made sure we used all of them today, and that was a great thing on his part. He was being very aggressive with all the pitches, which is what I wanted to do right [out] of the gate, especially against a lineup like this.”
Through three games, the Nationals’ starters have given up a total of four runs, two earned in 18 1⁄3 IP (0.98 ERA). Not surprising, considering who started in Cincinnati, but exactly the kind of start Martinez was looking for from the top of his rotation.
“It makes it really nice,” he said after Sunday’s win. “And like I said, we preach, and I know [Derek Lilliquist] preaches about pounding the strike zone, and our first three starters did that.”