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Another rough start raises questions about Gio’s arm

May 17, 2014, 8:54 PM EST


Since joining the Nationals 2 1/2 years ago, Gio Gonzalez has been prone to the occasional ragged start, sometimes the downright ugly start. But it has never happened to him twice in a row, and that’s why alarm bells are now ringing in the wake of the left-hander’s poor performance Saturday during a 5-2 loss to the Mets.

Even more cause for alarm than Gonzalez’s sub-par numbers? The fact that his throwing shoulder appears to be something less than 100 percent healthy.

Gonzalez talked his way around the subject when asked twice postgame about his shoulder, which prompted an early exit from a start last month, but he couldn’t completely conceal his concern about the state of the arm that to date has allowed him to make 162 starts in the big leagues without a single stint on the disabled list.

“Uh, realistically, arm was dropping a lot,” he said when asked directly whether anything was going on with him physically. “I guess we’ll see.”

Gonzalez’s velocity was fine on Saturday — his four-seam fastball averaged 93.6 mph and topped out at 95.4 mph — but his command was not. He labored through the top of the first inning, needing 37 pitches to face nine batters, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks.

By the time he completed the third inning, he had allowed five runs while throwing a whopping 84 pitches. He fell behind in the count to nine of the 17 batters he faced on the afternoon, going to a 3-ball count against seven of them.

“Way too many pitches, missing the zone, not throwing it where he wanted to,” manager Matt Williams said. “Just inconsistent. And getting behind. If you get behind at this level, you’re going to pay for it.”

That’s precisely what happened to Gonzalez six days earlier in Oakland, when he served up a pair of 3-run homers on 3-0 pitches to catcher Derek Norris. Combine that start with this one, and Gonzalez has given up 12 earned runs while putting 21 men on base over 7 1/3 innings, seeing his ERA skyrocket from 2.91 to 4.62.

The 12 earned runs match the most he has ever allowed in back-to-back starts. The 7 1/3 innings are the fewest he has totaled in consecutive starts since Sept. 2009, when he sported a career ERA over 6.00 and had yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues.

“Coming up with the A’s, I had some rough starts,” the lefty said. “It’s most staying positive, believing in yourself, mentally breaking through it. Something has got to snap, where it’s got to be in a positive way.”

Gonzalez may be able to harken back to his early days when trying to remember how he bounced back from poor outings, but he has no previous experience dealing with injury. And while nobody with the Nationals definitively is saying there’s anything wrong with his arm, the subtle signs certainly are there.

Though his velocity isn’t diminished, Gonzalez and Williams spoke of him having trouble finding a proper arm slot. That could be a sign of injury. If Gonzalez’s shoulder isn’t allowing him to raise his arm high enough to get on top of pitches, he would be forced to throw from a lower angle, which leads to poor command.

“We ask him, and he says he feels fine,” Williams said. “It’s just a question of being inconsistent with his … his release point is a little bit all over the place. But that’s somewhat typical of him sometimes. And he tends to zone it in as he gets into the game. But the last two, that hasn’t been the case.”

Head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz sought out both Gonzalez and Williams in the Nationals’ clubhouse following the game. Is a medical issue — significant or insignificant — to blame for the lefty’s recent struggles? That question hasn’t fully been answered yet.

Gonzalez’s unusually dour demeanor at the end of another rough day at the ballpark, though, certainly suggested something isn’t right with a pitcher who for seven big-league seasons has never had to worry about the state of his left arm.

“You know, it’s one of those things you’ve just got to keep grinding through,” Gonzalez said. “Just trying to find out what it is. Hopefully, something positive comes out of it.”


  1. David Proctor - May 17, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    Kershaw just gave up 6 runs in 1 2/3. To quote the amazing Vin Scully:

    “For Clayton Kershaw, a huge slice of humble pie— it happens to all of them.”

    • David Proctor - May 17, 2014 at 9:17 PM

      Make that 7 runs, as an inherited runner scored.

      • manassasnatsfan - May 17, 2014 at 9:46 PM

        He also had a balk.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 17, 2014 at 10:26 PM

      Dodgers only down 9-7 now.

  2. hantiaolang - May 17, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    I think the Nats have endured injury after injury valiantly, have hit well for the most part especially late, and are only 1/2 a game back. The “bottom” of the line-up – remember the good old days when the discussion was which one of our good hitters would be stuck in the 8-hole? Rendon? Ramos? even ALR? – now practically stretches from 6 to 9 (sometimes 5 if Desi bats cleanup).

    But if I’m ever held at Guantanamo Bay, all my interrogators have to do is threaten to show me another Nats game where we are down 3-0 after the first and I will sing like a canary. 2-0, 5-0, I don’t care, but my poor heart can’t handle anymore 3-0 first inning deficits.

  3. David Proctor - May 17, 2014 at 9:16 PM

    Gio getting precautionary tests on his shoulder tomorrow, per Kilgore.

  4. manassasnatsfan - May 17, 2014 at 9:40 PM

    Let’s see is Blake Treinan ready for a few weeks work?

  5. dcwx61 - May 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    He may need some rest at the least. Only a week away from ALR’s return.

  6. Mrsb loves the Nats - May 17, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    Royals just got screwed…

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - May 17, 2014 at 9:46 PM

      I hope we never get this blue behind the plate in the O’s/Royal game….

      Ended up not hurting them but the replay needs to be expanded…

  7. manassasnatsfan - May 17, 2014 at 9:48 PM

    He misses the call big time, and throws out Host. Then Adam Jones does what to many pitchers do and that is swing one a foot out of the zone to strike out.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 17, 2014 at 9:49 PM

      Make that Yost my stupid auto correct keeps coming back on though I turn it off all the time.

  8. ratiocinational - May 17, 2014 at 10:02 PM

    I blame the stupid American flag-themed uniform for Gio’s bad outing. The only thing worse is the desert camo uniforms they force the Pads to wear.

    • David Proctor - May 17, 2014 at 10:22 PM

      Aww. I’m not very patriotic, but I think the blue flag-themed unis are great.

    • ratiocinational - May 17, 2014 at 10:43 PM

      I’m fairly patriotic, but I have aesthetic objections. Also, the picture above makes me think Gio needs a tighter fitting belt.

    • karlkolchak - May 17, 2014 at 11:46 PM

      Totally agree. Burn those butt ugly unis. They are an offense to the eye and the Nats always seem to play poorly in them. The Nats should ALWAYS be RED at home…always.

  9. Doc - May 17, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    Glad to hear that Gio’s getting a medical review of his arm.

    If Gio has to go on the DL,lots to choose from down there on the farm, lots.

    If RZim ends up in LF, the 2nd half is going to look like a very different team and batting order.

    So JDub, how’s about leading off, Mr. OBP????

    • manassasnatsfan - May 17, 2014 at 10:24 PM

      If Zim plays left on return, after all star game the line up looks like this


      • Doc - May 17, 2014 at 11:58 PM

        Good batting order concoction, manassasnatsfan.

        It would be hard for any team in baseball to beat the first four guys with OBPs.

        Might wanna switch Ramos with ARen. Depends how Ramos comes on. Rendon is good almost anywhere. Think when the big boys get back, Rendon will go back to his April stats.

  10. natszee - May 17, 2014 at 10:22 PM

    I hope he is not injured. I hope all it is requires is rest. Also, I think he needs to go back to his pregame haircuts … They worked well in the past two years!

    • manassasnatsfan - May 17, 2014 at 10:32 PM

      I said that before the last start and still think. He said looking professional is important.

  11. senators5 - May 17, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    All well and good but being a NL guy now, Gio really needs to learn how to bunt!

  12. natsguy - May 18, 2014 at 3:22 AM

    I love the patriotic unis.

  13. npb99 - May 18, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    If Espi doesn’t reverse course, what should they do? Frandsen as a starter? Or too much of a defensive drop-off?

    • NatsLady - May 18, 2014 at 8:47 AM

      You could afford to carry Danny because of his runs saved on defense IF other people stepped up. Some teams, including some championship teams, carry a weak-hitting center fielder or SS and manage just fine. Danny could take walks and bunt for singles, plus the occasional home run. Just hope he stays away from the HBP as a method for getting on base.

      • NatsJim - May 18, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        “Danny could take walks…”

        Surely you jest.

  14. natsfan1a - May 18, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    I also like the blue unis.

    I’m glad they’re going to look at Gio. Here’s hoping that he’s okay and that maybe they can figure out what’s up.

    Also hoping for a curly w this afternoon, when we’ll be at the park.

    • Joe Seamhead - May 18, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      Hope that you get to see a win and a good game. I also like the blue uniforms. Actually, I like them because they don’t look like the Reds.

      I wasn’t too active on the game threads the past couple of days.Friday night’s was pretty funny, but I tried to read through yesterday’s, but let’s just say that it was rather tedious.

      I love to watch Denard Span play the outfield but the sands in the hourglass are really emptying out quickly as far as for his bat to come alive. The idea of Zimmerman playing left might not be all that far fetched. The thing that makes a Zim, Harper, Werth unlikely? Span is Rizzo’s centerfielder of choice. Mike has a history of being slow to throw in the towel on the guys that he has gone out and gotten. Also, the whole idea seems to reek of desperation.Yes, most of the throws from left are more forgiving then the ones from third to first, but in the heat of a fast moving play could a really hard throw from the outfield into the plate be the final blow for Zim’s shoulder?

      Matt Williams did have a legit reason for not burning a pinch hitter so early in a 5-0 game when he already knew that Gio would not be coming back out to pitch. It was still frustrating to watch Gio pop up a bunt.

      Gio seems to have something physically out of sync. I don’t think that he’s a head case, anymore than any other ballplayer is. He has always walked a ton of guys. I seem to remember that he led the AL in walks his last year in Oakland. I was one the few that thought we screwed up the day we made the trade to get him. I remember that sjm308 talked me off the ledge.Then I saw that big looping curve and softened my stance. Then I saw his contagious smile and liked him right away. I sure hope that he can get back the guy that we had.

      Yesterday in the Braves loss the Upton brothers went 0-8 with 6 strikeouts. On their blogs they say that In the outfield Justin played a single into a triple.I just get some perverse satisfaction reading all of that.


      • NatsLady - May 18, 2014 at 9:07 AM

        As far as I know, Gio’s never been on the DL as a Nat. That says something about his reliablity and durability. He’s a tough competitor. I remember him saying after one of those blowouts (this was last year), “That’s not the pitcher I am.” We like the fun smile, the haircuts, the “diva,” but when it comes down to it, Gio wants to win games.

      • 6ID20 - May 18, 2014 at 10:05 AM

        They might move Span out of leadoff, but no way will they move him out of center field to fit Zim in left. Zim to LF is just another Kilgore pipe dream, like his advocating of Cano and Balfour in the offseason. Kilgore has yet to get one right. Good thing he never saw Mark Lerner shagging flies during BP, or he’d have him in the lineup too.

      • scmargenau - May 18, 2014 at 10:25 AM

        No way they cAn put Zim to LF – I would have panic attacks with every throw

  15. NatsLady - May 18, 2014 at 8:43 AM

    I like the uni’s, just shrink the Curly-W a little bit, that would take care of the aesthetics for me.

  16. natsjackinfl - May 18, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    Count me out on the blue uni’s, especially at home.

    And as for Gio and his stiff shoulder, nobody throws 94 with a stiff shoulder. They should MRI his head.

  17. Ghost of Steve M. - May 18, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    Espi sitting today!

    • scmargenau - May 18, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      Good. Where u see that;?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 18, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        I got a text message. I’m sure he will be back tomorrow. Frandsen starting today. Looks like Gio to the DL.

  18. chaz11963 - May 18, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Looks Gio is on the 15 day DL. Matheus is back on the roster today.

    • stoatva - May 18, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      Detwiler to the rotation, I’m guessing.

      • stoatva - May 18, 2014 at 10:34 AM

        Treinen said to be on schedule to pitch in Gio’s slot, but do you think they’d go all righty for two weeks?

      • chaz11963 - May 18, 2014 at 10:39 AM

        As much challenges as they have endured getting Det comfortable coming out of the bullpen, I would be very surprised if MW gave him a spot start then put him back in the pen.

      • 6ID20 - May 18, 2014 at 10:46 AM

        No way.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 18, 2014 at 10:47 AM

        Treinen I believe or possibly Taylor Jordan.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 18, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      Mattheus gets 4 days on the roster unless Stammen was to start but I doubt it. My guess is Treinen.

      • NatsLady - May 18, 2014 at 11:13 AM

        I would guess Treinan if he’s lined up properly. Bryon Kerr also suggested Taylor Hill…”has been tearing up Triple-A Syracuse and is ready for a shot. The 6-foot-3, 233 lb., Hill has gone 5-1 with a 1.99 ERA in eight starts over 49 2/3 innings. He has 41 strikeouts with only seven walks.”

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 18, 2014 at 11:14 AM

        Lots of possibilities when you consider Taylor Jordan too. Problem is Taylor Hill isn’t in the 40 man.

  19. stoatva - May 18, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    Whoever takes Gio’s slot, it figures to be the opener of the 4 game series in Pittsburgh.





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