KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Allowing three hits and one earned run while striking out four batters in 4 2/3 innings against the Astros on Sunday certainly sat well with Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, but there was another aspect to his game that had him just as encouraged.
"I mixed in all my pitches, got my changeup in counts I wanted to throw it [and] I got over [to cover first], which is something I wanted to work on this spring," he said.
In the fourth inning, first baseman Brock Peterson made a diving stop of a Robbie Grossman hard-hit grounder, and rose to his feet to flip in time to Gonzalez covering first base for an out on a close play.
"You joke about it, but on a serious note, that was something I really wanted to work on for a while," Gonzalez said. "It got me out of that inning. I could have been out there with another runner on base and pitching out of the stretch and not feeling comfortable. It was good to see those guys playing great defense. Brock made the play and we got over and got the out."
Gonzalez retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and wound up throwing 40 of his 68 pitches for strikes while tossing a large number of changeups.
"It's a feel pitch," Gonzalez said. "[Catcher] Sandy [Leon] calling it over and over, and calling it in the counts I wanted it in, that just builds confidence. That's what I wanted to do."
Zimmerman plays two innings at first base
VIERA, Fla. -- After weeks of practicing, Ryan Zimmerman played his first game at first base during a 2-1 loss to the Tigers on Sunday afternoon. He started the game at third base, but switched to first in the top of the sixth inning.
Zimmerman played two innings at first and made five putouts. The most difficult play came in the sixth inning. With a runner on first, Don Kelly hit a broken-bat grounder to Zimmerman. At first, it looked like Zimmerman would try to turn a double play, but he bobbled the ball and took the out at first instead. Zimmerman admitted he was getting used to a bigger glove.
"I felt good. It's the first time I really played over there," Zimmerman said. "I have a little ways to go, but I felt fine."
Zimmerman said it will take a few more games to get used to the positioning around the first-base bag, but manager Matt Williams liked that Zimmerman didn't panic around the bag.
Williams said he plans to start Zimmerman at first base before Spring Training is over, but most importantly, he wants to make sure that Zimmerman is comfortable at third.
"It's important for [Zimmerman] to get innings [at first base]," Williams said. "We had an opportunity today. [First baseman] Adam LaRoche had a couple of at-bats. We wanted Zim to get another one, so it turned out he could play a couple of innings over at first as well. It sounds perfect."
Williams challenges, but call upheld in seventh
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Matt Williams decided to take advantage of expanded instant replay for the second time in a week and he lost again, this time during a 2-1 defeat to the Tigers on Sunday afternoon.
With two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Tigers outfielder Ezequiel Carrera blooped a single to left field against left-hander Xavier Cedeno. After Carrera touched the bag and made the turn, it looked like left fielder Bryce Harper threw Carrera out at first base.
While Erick Dalton, the Nationals' coordinator of advance scouting and video, looked at the video tape, Williams delayed the game by having catcher Jose Lobaton talk to Cedeno.
Williams then went to first-base umpire Gary Cedestrom to challenge the call. Cedestrom and his crew checked the replay and -- in less than two minutes -- the umpires decided they were not going to reverse the call.
"It's all practice at this point," Williams said. "It's the seventh inning. We don't know if we are going to get another chance, so it's a question of the process today and doing it again. It's funny, you look at it and your eyes tell you safe or out."
It marked the second time in a week that Williams challenged a call. During Wednesday's 10-9 loss to the Astros, Lobaton hit into a double play in the sixth inning. Dalton relayed to bench coach Randy Knorr via walkie talkie that the play was close. Knorr then communicated the information to Williams, who went to first-base umpire Ryan Blackney to challenge the call.
The umpires checked the replay, and after 45 seconds the call was confirmed by replay official Toby Basner.
Nationals still need to improve on holding runners
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals pitchers did a poor job of preventing opposing runners from stealing bases last year. They obviously want to improve, but Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Tigers could be an indication that they still have some things to work on in that department.
The Tigers stole six bases, and it helped them score both of their runs. With right-hander Jordan Zimmermann on the mound in the first inning, Rajai Davis led off with a single and Ian Kinsler was hit by a pitch. Davis and Kinsler then executed a double steal before Don Kelly grounded out, scoring Davis.
Manager Matt Williams understood that the Tigers added more speed to the top of the lineup and accepted the fact that the run scored. Williams said Zimmermann was not slow throwing to the plate.
"You look at the stolen bases -- the top of the order, they are going to do that. They made it known they are going to do that. That's why they got those two guys. They needed more team speed," Williams said. "So they are going to try it. It's just how they were going to approach the game at the top of the order."
However, Williams sounded annoyed that reliever Michael Gonzalez couldn't hold runners in the eighth inning.
The game was tied at 1 when Detroit scored the go-ahead run. Steve Lombardozzi led off with a single, stole second and third base before scoring the winning run on a double by Danny Worth, who then stole third base.
"[Gonzalez] has to hold baserunners a little bit better than that," Williams said. "We are preaching in Spring Training that we need to do a better job of holding those guys. [Gonzalez] has been around the block a time or two and he understands that he is fairly slow to the plate. He needs to vary his times, his looks and throw over and things like that. Today, [the Tigers] took advantage of him."
Could Tigers have interest in Espinosa?
VIERA, Fla -- With Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias starting the 2014 season on the disabled list, one has to wonder if the Tigers have interest in Danny Espinosa, who started his professional career as a shortstop.
Espinosa is an excellent defender and could help a team looking for speed. It has been reported that over a dozen teams have interest in Espinosa, and many in baseball feel he can make a comeback from the rough season he had in 2013.
But general manager Mike Rizzo has made it clear that he is not going to give Espinosa away. Espinosa is currently competing with Anthony Rendon for the second-base job. But as of right now, Rendon would most likely win the job and Espinosa could be a backup.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.