Gio's debut is worth the wait

Gio's debut is worth the wait

WASHINGTON -- In the 16 days since Gio Gonzalez had last appeared in a game for the Nationals, he threw four bullpen sessions. He started the season in the bullpen in Atlanta. A rainout pushed his first start back an additional day. He sat on the bench with a clipboard keeping a chart of Max Scherzer's pitches for pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Gonzalez made his long-awaited season debut during Tuesday night's 2-1 victory against the Braves and delivered a stellar outing. He held Atlanta to three hits and one walk in six shutout innings while striking out four.

Baker on Gonzalez's performance

"I felt locked in," Gonzalez said. "I felt like I didn't miss a beat."

The Nationals skipped Gonzalez's first turn through the rotation and decided they wanted to slot Gonzalez, who usually does not pitch deep into games, between Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in order to ease the burden on the bullpen. During the long layoff between outings, manager Dusty Baker urged Gonzalez to pitch with his mind, to think about what to do in each situation even when he is not in the game.

So Gonzalez approached this start to prove that he can last deep into the game.

Gonzalez's single

His endurance was tested on a cold night at Nationals Park, when on the first play of the game he had to race over to cover first base to beat out speedy Braves rookie Mallex Smith -- a play Gonzalez admitted left him a little winded. In his first at-bat, Gonzalez collected a hit and then went first to third on a single by Michael Taylor. On the mound, Gonzalez threw strikes and took advantage of the Braves' aggressiveness. Walks were an issue at times last season, but he issued only one walk on Tuesday.

"You wouldn't know he had missed two weeks," Baker said. "He pitched with his mind, so you could tell he was very calm. He didn't have any baserunners. He had an outstanding changeup, pretty good curveball when needed and he had good location on his fastball. He was very good tonight."

After the game, Gonzalez walked around the Nationals' clubhouse carrying son Enzo (still less than a month old) in his right arm, showing him off to his teammates. It was a proud moment for a new father after an outing he could also be proud of.

Especially considering he won't have to wait 16 days until his next one.

"Mike [Maddux], if you're listening, one bullpen," Gonzalez said with a laugh.

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.