PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since arriving in camp two weeks ago, Gio Gonzalez has found himself talking more about off-the-field developments -- his connection to the Biogenesis clinic under investigation, his addition to Team USA's roster for the World Baseball Classic -- than anything having to do with actually pitching a baseball.
Tonight, then, offered Gonzalez the opportunity to return to his comfort zone. He took the mound at Tradition Field for his first start of the year, and all was right with the world again.
Even if he was surprisingly nervous in that moment.
"It's good to get on that mound again and get back at it," the left-hander said. "Especially with the fan support I was getting out there. It's good to hear that fans still support you and still love you. There were butterflies. You get the butterflies again. That's a good thing."
Those butterflies manifested themselves into a somewhat shaky first inning for Gonzalez, who was unable to locate his fastball with much consistency and wound up needing 25 pitches to complete the frame. But a mechanical adjustment between innings helped him keep his front shoulder closed and allowed him to start peppering the strike zone with his mid-90s fastball and allowed him to end his brief evening on a high note: 2 scoreless, hit-less innings against the Mets.
"It's trying to pick up the target and stay back. It's trying to stay closed," he said of his mechanical approach. "Just like a hitter, you want to stay compact and not fly open. That's the same thing as a pitcher. You want to stay compact, stay closed and pick up your target on time."
Gonzalez's trademark curveball had no glitches whatsoever; he fired off a couple of knee-bucklers in the first inning, catching both David Wright and Ike Davis.
"Just a gifted athlete, a gifted pitcher," manager Davey Johnson said. "His fastball runs all over the place. And his curveball is unhittable. He's right where he left off."
The only blemish on Gonzalez's night wasn't from his pitching line but on his forehead, where a large red spot emerged out of nowhere. The lefty's explanation: His dog, a French bulldog named Hollywood, did it.
"She gave me a rug burn," he said. "I hate her. And then I love her. And then I look in her face and I love her again."
Gonzalez was loose and carefree as ever, happy to talk about pitching and his dog for a change instead of the Biogenesis story.
He was especially happy to talk about the positive reaction he got from fans who cheered his name when he took the mound for the first time in what has already been an eventful spring.
"You don't know what the reaction is going to be like out there with the fans, when you're in somebody else's ballpark," Gonzalez said. "But when you got a lot of people showing love and supporting you, I think that means a lot to someone. They appreciate it. And I appreciate it."