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Spring training blog: Gio preps for Classic but Nats fall to Astros

Thursday - 3/7/2013, 6:58pm  ET

AP: ea6c0d6e-74b4-4c01-bd48-dbd195cbe63f
Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Thursday, March 7, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Craig Heist, wtop.com

KISSIMMEE, Fla. Gio Gonzalez tuned up for the World Baseball Classic by throwing three scoreless innings, allowing three hits with one walk and three strikeouts. But it wasn't good enough to prevent the Nationals second straight loss as they fell to the Astros 4-2.

Gonzalez was limited in his pitch count because of the WBC. He threw 42 pitches on the afternoon, 27 for strikes and deemed himself ready to go and take part in the Classic for Team USA.

"I felt good," Gonzalez said.

"I felt like three innings and I was still working on stuff and it felt like I was building more strength as the game went along. I was finally picking up my target but I finished up in the bullpen still trying to get that groove again but other than that, I felt good," he said.

After he was finished with his stint, Gonzalez threw an extra 23 pitches in the bullpen bringing his total to 65 for the day, unofficially. He threw more off-speed pitches this time out with a heavy emphasis on his curve ball.

"This time I was throwing the curve ball and the change-up and throwing them for strikes, which was what I wanted," Gonzalez said.

"I was trying to get all three pitches in effect especially coming up for the Classic," he said.

Gonzalez will leave Sunday and join Team USA in Miami before he is scheduled to pitch on March 12 and the honor of participating in his hometown is special to him.

"I'm excited and I can't wait to meet up with the team in Miami and just have some fun. Hopefully, I can bring something to the table where I can keep everyone nice and loose over there," he said.

The game

The game was scoreless until the sixth inning when the Astros scored a pair off Ross Ohlendorf. Carlos Pena led off the inning with a walk and was doubled to third by Fernando Martinez. Rick Ankiel (remember him?) had an RBI ground out scoring Carlos Pena. Mark Krauss then hit a sacrifice fly plating Martinez.

The Nationals tied the game in the top of the eighth. With the bases loaded and no one out, Michael Taylor singled to left scoring both Matt Skole and Sandy Leon. Ryan Mattheus entered the game in the bottom of the eighth for the Nationals. He had made three appearances, pitching four inning of scoreless ball while allowing just one hit and striking out seven.

Today was not his day

Mattheus gave up two runs on three hits over his one inning of work and it was a Jason Castro two-run single that did him in.

"The thing today was I just didn't have my split-fingered fastball," Mattheus said.

"When I got ahead hitters today I tried to use the split-fingered on lefties so, I threw a couple of balls with those, got back even in counts and then came back with fastballs and they were all over them. That's going to happen but all in all, it wasn't as bad of an outing as it looked like," he said.

Mattheus has been so good in the early part of spring that it was unusual to see him have a hiccup but he knows the split-fingered pitch is the last thing to come around at this time of the year.

"We focus so much early in throwing sessions on fastball command; you're really not spinning the ball until you get into a game so, that's what I'm working on right now. The fastball command is there," Mattheus said.

The pen

Besides Ross Ohlendorf giving up two runs and three hits in three innings of work, sandwiched between he and Mattheus was Drew Storen who gave up two hits but also fanned two while facing a total of five hitters.

Back home

The Nats are back at Space Coast Stadium on Friday to take on the St. Louis Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. Jordan Zimmermann will face Shelby Miller.

Follow @CraigWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.