WSH@STL: Gio allows one earned run vs. Cards

JUPITER, Fla. -- Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez made his fourth start of the spring on Friday afternoon, allowing two runs (one earned) over 4 2/3 innings of a 2-0 loss to the Cardinals.

Manager Matt Williams said that Gonzalez had problems with his command early in the game, which resulted in his pitch count rising. Gonzalez ended up throwing 82 pitches in the game.

"He had a little bit of a struggle with the command of his fastball, but other than that, he was good," Williams said.

Gonzalez acknowledged that he didn't have his best game, but he was pleased that he was getting his changeup over the plate. He was also happy that he was able to cover first base on a ground ball, something he struggled with for most of last year.

With one start left before the regular season, Gonzalez has a goal he would like to reach before the team heads back to D.C.

"I want to finish Spring Training strong and make sure that I'm ready to go, get ready for the regular season," Gonzalez said.

Rendon, Espinosa competing for keystone job

Rendon on Nationals' high expectations for '14 season

JUPITER, Fla. -- With less than two weeks left before breaking camp, Nationals manager Matt Williams said he has not decided who will be his starting second baseman. The competition is between Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa.

Williams said both players are doing well this spring, and he wants both to be in competition mode until the end of Spring Training. Entering Friday's action, Rendon was hitting .344 with a home run and six RBIs. Espinosa was hitting .200 with two RBIs, but he's been playing excellent defense.

"That is a tough decision for us to really make," Williams said. "As you come into Spring Training, you want to make it difficult for the manager to make a decision and for the organization to make that decision. They are both doing really well.

"I'm not ready to make that decision. We have a week left and they will continue to play and get at-bats. They have competed really well. We'll see how it goes the rest of the way and make our decisions accordingly."

Williams has decisions to make for Nats bench

STL@WSH: Hairston drives in Ramos on infield single

JUPITER, Fla. -- As camp hits the stretch run, the Nationals have yet to figure out how their bench will be constructed. Outfielders Scott Hairston and Nate McLouth and catcher Jose Lobaton are expected to be part of the bench.

Manager Matt Williams has to figure out at least two other players, and they will probably come from the infield. Jamey Carroll and possibly Danny Espinosa could be part of the bench.

The Nationals want their bench to be better than last year. Washington's reserves were 44-for-212 (.208), with seven home runs and 17 RBIs as pinch-hitters in 2013.

"In order to be a World Series-caliber team, the team must have a strong bench throughout the year," Hairston said.

Hairston, who joined the team in the second half last year, felt that Washington's bench players "didn't get as much reps as they needed to stay fresh.

"Sometimes, when you let five or six days go by without seeing live pitching and then you try to get back in there, it's almost kind of like starting over. When you have the type of talent that we have -- the starting eight -- it's sometimes hard to take them out of the lineup and use your bench."

Worth noting

• Williams arrived at Roger Dean Stadium after batting practice because he was doing infield drills at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., with regulars such as shortstop Ian Desmond and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman even practiced at first base to work on the angle of his throws.

"We wanted to get some good infield work this morning," Williams said.

• Rendon is probably going to miss a couple of games because of a chest cold, according to Williams.