Gio Gonzalez is the No. 3 starter for the Washington Nationals but would probably be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for a less-talented team.
That was evident from a standout 2017 season in which Gonzalez went 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA — a major upgrade from 2016 when he was 11-11 with a 4.57 ERA. He finished sixth in the National League Cy Young Award voting during his best season since he was 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA during his first year with Washington in 2012.
With Gonzalez working 201 innings and consistently pitching well alongside repeat Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and the oft-dominating Stephen Strasburg, it’s no surprise the Nationals won 97 games and a second successive National League East title.
Gonzalez makes his 2018 debut Sunday as Washington goes for a sweep of its three-game, season-opening series of the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
The Nationals are eager to learn if the 32-year-old Gonzalez can match his 2017 success as he ages and loses a bit off his pitches.
The left-handed Gonzalez will be matched on what should be a chilly afternoon — the predicted high is 40 — against another of the Reds’ unproven young starters, Sal Romano, a 24-year-old right-hander who flashed considerable potential at the end of last season.
The Nationals won the season opener 2-0 on Friday behind the strong work of starter Max Scherzer and three relievers, then put up 14 hits during a 13-7 rout Saturday.
Adam Eaton went 5-for-5 with four runs scored and three RBIs on Saturday and Matt Adams hit a 460-foot, three-run homer in the first inning off Reds starter Luis Castillo (0-1). Brian Goodwin added a grand slam in the ninth.
“I want to get these guys involved, get them engaged,” new Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of giving spot starts to Adams and Goodwin, who combined for seven RBIs. “They’re a big part of what we need to be successful.”
Strasburg wasn’t his sharpest despite improving to 4-1 in his career against the Reds, allowing eight hits and three runs (one earned) in 6 1/3 innings. But Washington opened a 6-1 lead by the fifth, then added seven runs in the final three innings.
“We got ourselves back in the game against one of the premier starters in the National League,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “We showed a lot of spirit and effort and fought our way back.”
Gonzalez sharpened up for the season by pitching three scoreless innings in his final spring start Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins at Nationals Park.
“I felt fine going after hitters,” said Gonzalez, who clearly seems comfortable throwing to newly acquired Nationals catcher Miguel Montero, who came to camp as a non-roster player.
Gonzalez is going after batters differently than he did early in his career, relying much more now on his curveball and his change-up. His fastball has dropped in velocity from around 94 mph to 90 mph during his seven Nationals seasons.
But it was an effective mix a season ago, when opposing hitters batted only .175 against Gonzalez with runners in scoring position.
Romano was only a 23rd-round draft pick in 2011, but his fastball was rated as the best in the Cincinnati organization as he went 3-3 with a 3.17 ERA in his final eight starts last year. He ended 5-8 with a 4.45 ERA in 16 overall starts during his first major league season, striking out 73 but giving up 91 hits in 87 innings.
At 6 feet 5 and 270 pounds, Romano is one of the major leagues’ largest starters.
“He pitched with great confidence all spring and, for me, it was his job to lose,” Price said. “And he didn’t lose it.”
Suzuki (hand) is not in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Phillies.
Suzuki will get Saturday off after prematurely exiting Friday’s game after he was hit by a pitch on the hand. The severity of his injury remains unclear at this point, but Chris Stewart should continue to start behind the dish until Suzuki is healthy, as starter Tyler Flowers (oblique) is already on the disabled list.
TORONTO — The Yankees, already running low on outfielders, lost another one Saturday afternoon.
And maybe a relief pitcher, too.
Rookie left fielder Billy McKinney, called up Friday to replace the injured Aaron Hicks, injured his left shoulder while crashing into the wall Saturday as he tried to chase down a first-inning drive by Josh Donaldson.
And so it was another injury — not Tyler Austin’s two monstrous homers and not even a horrendous eighth inning by Dellin Betances — that took news-of-the-day status in a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays that handed the Yankees their first loss of the season.
Betances allowed a leadoff homer in the eighth by former Yankees infielder Yangervis Solarte and then saw Kevin Pillar steal second, third and home in the inning as Toronto broke a 3-3 tie. By then, though, the Yankees had lost at least one player and possibly two.
Though X-rays were negative, McKinney was diagnosed with a left shoulder AC sprain, making a stint on the disabled list likely. And as if the Yankees needed more bad news in that department, right-hander Adam Warren was knocked from the game in the sixth when he took a comebacker off his right ankle area.
If McKinney and Warren go on the DL, they will join outfielders Hicks (right intercostal muscle strain), Jacoby Ellsbury (right oblique strain) and Clint Frazier (concussion) along with first baseman Greg Bird (right ankle surgery).
Ellsbury, rehabbing in Tampa, is not eligible to come off the DL until Thursday, and it’s not a certainty that he’ll be ready then. The Yankees have no more outfielders remaining on their 40-man roster. Among those on the 25-man roster with outfield experience are Tyler Wade, Brandon Drury, Tyler Austin and Ronald Torreyes.
The dearth of centerfielders prompted Aaron Boone to give Aaron Judge his first major-league start in center on Saturday. He wanted to give Brett Gardner a day off, but that lasted less than an inning.
After CC Sabathia retired Steve Pearce to start the bottom of the first, Donaldson launched a 2-and-1 fastball to left-center. McKinney, raced back and jumped, leaning with the left side of his body, toward the wall. The left side of his head and left shoulder appeared to hit the wall, and the rookie crumpled to the ground as Donaldson pulled into second with a double.
Boone and trainer Steve Donohue checked on McKinney, who had staggered to one knee, and left him in the game. But after Justin Smoak’s RBI single to left a batter later, Boone pulled McKinney, replacing him with Gardner. Judge stayed in center, where he had no issues.
Sabathia allowed two runs (one earned) and five hits in five innings. He walked two and struck out four.
Austin’s two-run homer into the second deck in left tied it at 2 in the
After Warren walked Pillar with one out in the sixth, Aledmys Diaz smashed a comebacker off the pitcher’s right ankle area. Although he was smiling when Boone and Donohue talked to him, Warren left the game and was replaced by righty Jonathan Holder, and Luke Maile’s RBI single made it 3-2.
But Austin took it to Jays starter Marco Estrada again, hitting another drive into the second deck in left with two outs in the seventh to tie it at 3-3.
Betances, who pitched a scoreless seventh, then saw things blow up in the eighth. Solarte torched a 97-mph fastball into the second deck in center to make it 4-3 and Pillar singled with one out. Pillar stole second with two outs, and after Maile walked, they pulled a double steal to put runners on second and third. When Betances didn’t look at him, Pillar broke for home. Betances stepped off the rubber and fired home, but his uncatchable throw went to the backstop, making it 5-3.
Roberto Osuna pitched a scoreless bottom half for the save.
LOS ANGELES–Injuries forced five Giants’ pitchers to start the year on the disabled list, and Saturday, manager Bruce Bochy announced that’s where reliever Julian Fernández will spend his entire 2018 season.
Fernández will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his pitching arm Thursday in Arizona. Dr. Gary Waslewski will perform the surgery.
The Giants selected Fernández from the Colorado Rockies’ organization in the Rule 5 draft during the offseason, which allowed the team to take an extended look at a promising young pitcher with a 100-mile per hour fastball this spring. Fernández had an opportunity to crack the Giants’ Opening Day roster, but a late-spring injury diagnosis doomed his chances.
Fernández, 22, appeared in eight games this spring, posting a 13.50 ERA over 7.1 innings pitched. Despite unimpressive numbers, the Giants were considering Fernández for one of the team’s final bullpen spots because they could not send him to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning. Rule 5 draft choices must spend the entire season on a 25-man roster or be offered back to their previous franchise at a price of $50,000, so San Francisco was preparing to make a difficult decision before news of Fernández’s injury came down.
Because Fernández is on the Major League 60-day disabled list, he will be paid a full salary for the 2018 season. That’s significant because the Giants don’t have much wiggle room under the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold, so each player on the 25-man roster that suffers a season-ending injury must be replaced on the roster by an addition who will also make a Major League salary.
Fernández will not be active at any point during the 2018 season, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll be available by Opening Day in 2019. Rule 5 draft criteria states that if a player is not active for 90 days in his first year with a club due to an extended injury, whatever remains of the 90-day obligation must be met the following year, his second season with the drafting franchise.
Outside of Fernández, the Giants have four other pitchers including Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Will Smith and Mark Melancon on the disabled list. Bochy said Samardzija threw on Saturday at Dodger Stadium and is making steady progress in his effort to return from a right pectoral strain.
“He threw off the mound, he threw 20 pitches and he feels great,” Bochy said. “He’ll take another bullpen Tuesday, a full-on bullpen and we’ll decide what we’re going to do.”
The Giants don’t need a fifth starter until April 10, but Bochy said it’s unlikely Samardzija would be ready to rejoin the rotation by that point in the season. The 11th-year Major League veteran is likely headed for at least one rehab start, but Samardzija should be back in the rotation before the end of April provided he doesn’t experience any setbacks.
Saturday night starter
Non-roster invitee Derek Holland began spring training as a dark horse candidate to win a spot in the Giants’ rotation, but due to the team’s various injuries and Holland’s impressive performances, he’ll take the mound Saturday night against the Dodgers.
Bochy said he thought Holland could help the Giants as soon as he saw him pitch for the first time this spring, and though he was likely headed for a long relief role, Holland is now throwing in the third slot in the team’s rotation.
“He showed a quick arm, a good command, so that was impressive and that’s what you’re looking at to start with,” Bochy said. “Where’s he at with his stuff, the velo, the arm speed, all of that, he showed all of that right off the bat.”
Holland posted a 6.20 ERA in 26 starts last year with the White Sox, but logged a 2.37 ERA over his first 10 starts of the season.