WASHINGTON (AP) — Warming up in the bullpen before his first start of the season, Washington Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez got hit by a severe headache.
Maybe it was because the Florida native was bothered by the temperature in the 40s. Wasn’t really sure. He took a couple of pills. He got his right temple massaged by a trainer. Still, he couldn’t shake the pain, inning after inning — and it did not affect him one bit.
Gonzalez hit his second career homer — grinning his way around the bases — and pitched six scoreless innings, helping reigning NL East champion Washington beat the Miami Marlins 3-0.
Add that to a 2-0 victory for Washington in Monday’s opener behind Stephen Strasburg, and the club’s public relations staff said it’s only the 13th time a major league team started a season with consecutive shutouts.
“It’s not really hard to fathom. I look at this staff and that’s what I expect,” said Ryan Mattheus, one of three relievers who followed Gonzalez. “I see (starting pitchers) 1 through 5. And then the bullpen down there, the seven guys we’ve got. I think there’s going to be a lot of shutouts.”
Gonzalez (1-0), a 21-game winner in 2012 who finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting, allowed only two hits, along with five strikeouts and two walks.
“We’ve got a couple of guys that may be pressing a little bit,” said Marlins rookie manager Mike Redmond, whose team has a total of seven hits so far. “But, you know, we’ll be fine. We’ve just got to continue to go out there and keep grinding it out and get that first run across and take a little pressure off the guys.”
What really impressed the gregarious Gonzalez’s teammates was his solo shot to left field off Kevin Slowey (0-1), which came with one out in the fifth.
“Everybody’s already talking about having to hear about it the next two weeks,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
Gonzalez let a big smile crease his face as he crossed home plate then headed to the dugout for high-fives. He came back out to the steps to give a quick wave as many in the crowd of 26,269 — nearly 20,000 fewer than opening day — chanted his name, sounding like “Gee-oh! Gee-oh!”
Said Gonzalez, who also hit the previous homer by a Nationals pitcher, on Aug. 8 last season: “Lucky swing.”
“A slider that I just actually tried to bury. Tried to throw a very good one and I just kind of got underneath. It’s a shame to have that happen,” said Slowey, who gave up one run and four hits in 5 1-3 innings.
After hitting two homers in Game 1, Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper went 2 for 4 with a double. The 2012 NL Rookie of the Year scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s single in the eighth off reliever A.J. Ramos.
The Nationals scored an unearned run in the seventh off Ryan Webb with an unusual series of events. Danny Espinosa reached on second baseman Donovan Solano’s fielding error, was bunted over to second, took third on a wild pitch — one of two by Webb in the inning — and scored on Denard Span’s fielder’s choice grounder.
Even that last bit was odd: Pinch-runner Roger Bernadina ran right into Solano and hugged-slash-tackled the fielder as he tried to collect the ball and throw it to first, where Span was safe.
After Gonzalez left following 91 pitches, Mattheus pitched the seventh, Drew Storen took care of the eighth, and new closer Rafael Soriano improved to 2 for 2 in save situations since leaving the Yankees as a free agent.
“Our bullpen’s nice and solid out there,” Gonzalez said. “They’re just out there having fun. When you see them going out there, you want to almost test them: ‘Here, take the ball.'”
He blew on his throwing hand between pitches, trying for some semblance of warmth with the temperature at 45 degrees for the 7:08 p.m. first pitch and only dipping from there.
In January, Gonzalez and other major leaguers were linked in media reports to a now-closed anti-aging clinic in Florida that was alleged to have sold banned performance-enhancers. Gonzalez denied wrongdoing and later said blood and urine tests he was given two days after the initial report came back clean.
Major League Baseball’s investigation is ongoing.
“I’ve got no worries about that,” Gonzalez said this week. “I’m not ready to argue or talk about that. I’m ready to move forward. I’m already over it. I’m ready to move past that and focus on 2013.”
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