NEW YORK -- With the All-Star break set to begin Monday, when Giovany Gonzalez would normally have been slated to pitch, the Nationals have devised a creative way to keep their southpaw starter sharp.Instead of stretching out in a typical mid-week bullpen session, Gonzalez will instead be available as a
NEW YORK -- With the All-Star break set to begin Monday, when Giovany Gonzalez would normally have been slated to pitch, the Nationals have devised a creative way to keep their southpaw starter sharp.
Instead of stretching out in a typical mid-week bullpen session, Gonzalez will instead be available as a reliever for the final two games of the Nats' four-game set at Citi Field, which will wrap up Washington's first half.
Gonzalez gives the Nats a second left-handed option in the bullpen alongside Matt Grace, who has been stretched in emergency situations. But Gonzalez is much more suited to provide insurance length if needed over the weekend. Rookie Austin Voth started Saturday, and Jeremy Hellickson will start on Sunday.
Gonzalez has made 284 starts since his last relief appearance, which came in 2009 as a member of the A's. He's started in 294 of his 300 career appearances.
"Gio is all in. He'll do whatever," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "It's all hands on deck these next two days. Hopefully we get some length out of our starters."
The start Saturday for Voth, a 26-year-old righty, marked his MLB debut. Hellickson has completed six innings in just one of his 12 starts this season and not since May 8.
It's with this as a backdrop that Nats pitching coach Derek Lilliquist approached Gonzalez on Friday with the idea of eschewing his typical side session. The intensity of a game situation, the Nats feel, should prove similar and sufficient.
"It might even be good for him to throw an inning or two," Martinez said.
The Nats have not set their rotation to open the second half, but Gonzalez would likely start Friday or Saturday against Atlanta, depending on Stephen Strasburg's availability.
Martinez, Harper talk hustle
A day after Martinez took exception with the way Bryce Harper jogged out a double-play ball, the manager had a closed-door meeting with his star right fielder. Martinez said Friday night that he planned to "have a conversation" with Harper, who "didn't run the ball out the way I want him to."
Martinez declined to disclose the details of their meeting, saying Saturday "that will stay between Bryce and I." Harper has not addressed the situation publicly.
But afterwards, Martinez downplayed the issue of Harper's effort and implied both parties had put the incident behind them.
"I forgot about it. I really had," Martinez said. "We're trying to win today and he's a big part of that. He's all about winning. He wants to win. That's all he cares about."
The first-year skipper added: "He plays hard, he really does. One little thing happens, and it gets blown out of proportion. I'm a big fan of Bryce. I love the kid because of what he brings every day."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.