When the Orioles signed Mike Gonzalez from the Atlanta Braves in December of 2009, the Birds’ front office thought they had finally acquired a dominant left-handed relief specialist with experience on a winning team who could lead the young bullpen.
Over the last year and a half, the 33-year-old hasn’t performed up to the Orioles - or fan’s standards – with 4.46 ERA in 75 games. Gonzalez has finally found his groove on the rubber and is pitching how the Birds’ expected he would.
Over his last ten appearances, Gonzalez has tossed 8 innings of scoreless ball surrendering just 4 hits over the stretch (no hits allowed in the last three appearances). Not to mention, his ERA dropped more than a run from 5.82 to 4.71.
Gonzalez has been able to toss zeros on the board while commanding his pitches much better – walking only one runner over his last ten contests while recording 7 strike outs.
So, what did the Orioles expect to find in Gonzalez? Let’s take a peek into his past and see what the Orioles thought they were getting when they traded for the Texan in 2009.
Gonzalez spent the first four years of his major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2003 to 2006). With the exception of his ’03 season, Gonzalez pitched masterfully. He never finished a season with an ERA worse than 2.70 in his last three seasons.
In his first year, Gonzalez made only 16 appearances for Pittsburgh after he was called up in August. He tossed only 8.1 innings, but surrendered 7 ER, 7 hits including 4 HR and 6walks (7.56 ERA).
After Gonzalez got his first-season jitters under control, he posted three consecutive impressive seasons as a left-handed specialist out of the Pirates pen.
In his sophomore season, Gonzalez appeared in 47 games for the Bucs and tossed 43.1 innings. He surrendered only 6 ER all season, which is one less than his first season with over 31 more appearance. Gonzalez finished the season with a sparkling 1.25 ERA.
Gonzalez did not allow an earned run in 2004 until June 25th against the Cincinnati Reds (his first appearance was May 20th as he began the year with the AAA Nashville squad). He allowed only one run each month from May to September - except July when he gave up a grand total of two earned runs all month.
Gonzalez looked like a completely different pitcher than his first season as he issued the same number of walks (six) as 2003 but tossed 35.1 innings more. Gonzalez’s strikeouts skyrocketed to 55 while his strike out to walk ratio climbed to 9.17 from 1.00. The seemingly dominant lefty allowed only 32 hits all season.
After Gonzalez impressed the baseball world with his sophomore performance, he returned to the Pirates and continued to pitch consistently as scouts began following his progress. Although he finished with a higher ERA than the previous season (2.70 ERA), he still threw well for a struggling team, much like he is now.
Gonzalez appeared in 51 games in 2005 and surrendered 15 ER and 35 base hits over 50 IP, although his control was more erratic. He walked 31 runners but struck out only three more in 7 more innings. His strike out to walk ratio fell down to 1.87. He pitched very strongly over his last 12 appearances as he did not allow an earned run over 14.1 innings and only surrendered five hits over that stretch.
In his final season with the Pirates, Gonzalez put together another impressive year. He tossed 54 innings (four more than the year before) and allowed only 13 ER, which equates to a 2.17 ERA. Although he surrendered more hits (42), he managed to walk the same as the previous season (31) and fanned six more batters as he finished the year with 64 strike outs.
Not to mention, Gonzalez worked his way up the bullpen chain from lefty specialist as he was chosen by the organization to be the closer for 2006. He set a franchise record for consecutive games saved at 24 when he recorded his last save on August 24th. (That was coincidentally his last game in ’06 due to an elbow injury)
Gonzalez finished his career in Pittsburgh with a 2.37 ERA after tossing 155.2 innings in 168 games and surrendering 41 earned runs while giving up only 116 base hits.
Gonzalez was a hot commodity after three superb seasons as a left-handed specialist and proven closer for Pittsburgh. Atlanta traded for him on January 17th, 2007 to help rebuild their then-disaster of a bullpen.
Gonzalez posted a 1.59 ERA over his first 17 innings of work with the Braves and allowed only 15 ER over those 18 contests, but his season came to a screeching holt.
After a drop of more than 10 MPH in his fastball in a May outing, he was placed on the 15-day DL and on May 25th, 2007, the Braves announced that Gonzalez would have season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Gonzalez did not return to the Braves’ pen until the middle of June in 2008 after rehabbing in the minor leagues. He returned without his control. Gozalez surrendered 16 earned runs in just 33.2 innings over his 36 contests (4.28 ERA- highest since his first season), and walked just 14 while striking out 44 opponents. He recorded 14 saves for the Braves, but seven occurred in the last month of the season.
In his only full season with the Braves (2009)Gonzalez put together his best major league season to date. He tossed 74.1 innings over his 80 appearances, both career-highs, and surrendered 20 earned runs on only 56 base hits, but walked only 33 batters and struck out a career-high 90. Gonzalez finished the season with 10 saves for Atlanta.
Gonzalez ended his three year Braves career with a very respectable 2.81 ERA and 26 saves having tallied 125 innings over 134 appearances in an Atlanta uniform. So, although Gonzalez found himself on the disabled list twice with the Braves, he finished with impressive numbers. Had he remained healthy, who knows what he could have accomplished.
Although Gonzalez can close games, he made his name for himself as a left-handed specialist and that’s what the Birds are always looking for- someone who can come in and pitch to one batter in a high pressure situation.
It was exciting when the Birds acquired the hard-throwing lefty, but it was short-lived. Gonzalez appeared in three games in April 2010 (just 2 innings) and allowed four earned runs. The Orioles place him on the 15-day DL in mid-April and he didn’t return until almost the end of July.
Gonzalez finished the season with a 4.01 ERA, which is not terrible. For a pitcher who has been accustomed to sporting an ERA under three for most of his career, it’s higher than he would have liked. He allowed 11 earned runs in just 24.2 innings pitched over his 29 appearances.
This season, although Gonzalez struggled at the beginning of the year, he’s come around and is pitching more like in his heyday with the Pirates and Braves. Since the end of May, he’s surrendered seven earned runs (over two and a half months). Gonzalez allowed 7 runs in May and 8 runs in the first month of the season!
Over his last 24.2 IP (since June 5th), Gonzalez has allowed 7 earned runs, for a 2.60 ERA. Over the first two months of the season, he gave up 15 earned in just 17.1 innings (7.89 ERA).
Gonzalez has completely turned his season around. Although his ERA is still high at 4.71, it has dropped from 7.36 on June 5th to 4.71 on August 21st. Finally, the Birds are getting what they thought out of Gonzalez.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.