VIERA, Fla. (AP) Gio Gonzalez loves a challenge, especially when it comes from one of his teammates.
As the Washington lefty prepared to take the mound for the fourth inning of his start against the Mets on Thursday, he was approached by opening day starter Max Scherzer.
''Max came up to me and said, `Let's see how many times you can go out there and pound the strike zone, first-pitch strike,''' Gonzalez said.
A Nationals error forced Gonzalez to face one extra batter in that inning of an 8-3 loss to New York, but he was feeling good about what he accomplished.
''I tried to go 4-for-4 with him,'' Gonzalez said. ''Every challenge Max throws my way, I'm one step ahead of him.''
''I think with the way Max is as a person, and even (pitching coach) Steve McCatty, I love the fact that they're always trying to encourage (you) to take it a step further,'' he said.
Gonzalez threw five scoreless innings, giving up two hits. He struck out five, walked three and didn't allow a hit until the fifth.
Matt Reynolds and Juan Lagares hit back-to-back home runs off Washington reliever Jerry Blevins. Matt den Dekker hit a two-run homer against Craig Stammen.
Minor leaguer Matt Bowman, called up to make his first start of the spring, threw five scoreless innings for New York.
Wilmer Flores went 1 for 3 in his first game for the Mets since fouling a ball off his left foot on Sunday. The shortstop played into the seventh inning.
''I feel it a little bit, but you've just got to endure it,'' he said. ''It's going to be sore after, but I feel great.''
Bowman went to high school in Washington, and said he grew up a Nationals fans and was at the team's first game at RFK Stadium in 2005.
After reaching first base on a bunt single in the fifth inning, Bowman got a chance to meet longtime Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman.
''I said, `Nice to meet you. I've been watching you for a good long while now,'' Bowman said to Zimmerman. ''He said, `That's great.'''
Mets: 2B Daniel Murphy (hamstring) did some running for the second straight day and reported no issues, manager Terry Collins said.
Nationals: RF Jayson Werth (shoulder surgery) is running and playing defense, but still hasn't taken a full batting practice yet. He took some soft toss on Thursday... 3B Anthony Rendon was feeling better, but still not ready to resume baseball activity . OF Bryce Harper was sent home prior to the game because of a stomach illness. He is expected to play Friday.
Bartolo Colon, the Mets' opening day starter, and Jon Niese pitched in a simulated game Thursday morning in Port St. Lucie. The Mets opted to have Colon skip his scheduled Grapefruit League start against the Nationals, the same team the Mets face on opening day.
''I think it was a really good decision from (pitching coach) Dan (Warthen) and the staff, because last year they saw me a lot,'' Colon said through a translator.
Colon threw 73 pitches. Niese, who is expected to be the Mets' fourth starter this season, threw 76 pitches.
Nationals: Washington will host a St. Louis Cardinals split squad with Jordan Zimmermann scheduled to take the mound against Carlos Martinez.
Mets: The Mets will visit Jupiter to play a split-squad St. Louis team. Matt Harvey is scheduled to pitch for New York with John Lackey throwing for the Cardinals.