"It's a first time for everything," Gonzalez said after the outing. "For me, it's a work in progress."
Washington manager Matt Williams wanted Gonzalez to throw 65 pitches in the hopes of getting him back in the rotation during the Nationals' 10-game road trip. Gonzalez hit 65 exactly, throwing 34 strikes while walking four and hitting one batter, but the pitcher wasn't ready to say that he was done with his time in the Minors.
"I'm hoping that by [Saturday], I'll feel good, I'll feel great and we'll go from there," he said. "I'll talk to Matty and talk to [pitching coach Steve] McCatty and see where we'll go. If they think you're ready go, hopefully I'll meet the guys out in San Francisco, but that's a discussion I would have to finish up with them to see what they want. Maybe they feel I might need one more start down here. I'll find out [Saturday]."
Gonzalez added he needs to find out how his arm will respond after the outing before taking the next step, which was more important than the actual start itself.
"I'm hoping to get some positive soreness, which is normal, especially when you're going out there trying to throw 60, 70 pitches," he said. "From there, it's go back to work with our trainers and see how it goes and get back to the same routine. I think it's more like trying to stay up, trying to mentally stay right where you want to be.
"You don't want a game like this to affect you and think, 'All right, I'm all over the place, these guys are crushing me.' Again, they're doing something, I'm doing something. I'm trying to work my way up."
Gonzalez was sharp early, retiring the side in order on just five pitches in the first inning and using just 14 more to get through the second. But Gonzalez began to fade after that.
"The first two innings were great -- after that you could see that I started dying out a little bit, arm getting a little flat," he said. "You have to give credit. They are an aggressive team -- they know you're going to go up there and pound the strike zone, work on some things and they apparently didn't get the memo."
Gonzalez faced 10 batters in the third, allowing a grand slam to Wilmington's Bubba Starling, and labored once again in the fourth, with back-to-back four-pitch walks, sparking another four-run frame for the Blue Rocks.
"I feel awful -- [the Nationals] gave me five runs and I give them back up," Gonzalez said. "But at the end of the day, these guys look at the positive, which is great."
Gonzalez walked off the mound to one of the strangest standing ovations of his career, but one that he certainly appreciated.
"That's actually pretty cool," he said. "Fans came out and took the time to show some love. They are more about the person than the player, so that means a lot. The Minor Leagues always humble you -- you appreciate what you have up in the big leagues. These guys work hard and they do their thing. They have some great guys out here."