Phillies Notebook: Gonzalez draws a crowd in first official workout

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Chase Utley shows an unorthodox form in fielding this grounder.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Chase Utley shows an unorthodox form in fielding this grounder.
Posted: February 14, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - On the first day of official workouts for pitchers and catchers, a contingent of front-office members, coaches and media gathered between two of the four fields named after Phillies Hall of Famers at the Carpenter Complex.

At least a dozen pitchers were scheduled to throw off several mounds, but the man who summoned the largest collection of the assorted eyeballs was a 27-year-old who has never pitched in a game in the United States.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Cuban righthander the Phillies nabbed as a free agent in August, threw a bullpen session.

"It's good to see what he's got," said manager Ryne Sandberg, who hadn't seen the righthander throw at all before he arrived into town 2 weeks ago.

Gonzalez is the international man of mystery in camp. No one knows exactly where he might end up in April: the rotation, the bullpen, the minor leagues, the disabled list.

The Phillies liked him enough initially to commit $48 million over 6 years before backing off during the negotiating process and arriving at 3 years and $12 million after some questions arose during his physical.

Gonzalez didn't appear to throw at max effort yesterday.

"I've seen him twice off the mound, and I'm interested to see him build arm strength," Sandberg said. "He shows deception with his delivery, so that's something. I'll be anxious to see how he continues to look as he continues to build arm strength."

After failing in an attempt to defect from Cuba on his first try, in January 2012, Gonzalez was barred from competing in his home country and has pitched sparingly in the last 2 years. The Phillies handled him with caution last fall, limiting his work to a bullpen session at the tail end of instructional-league play.

But Gonzalez began working with new pitching coach Bob McClure last month and threw the first of "seven or eight" bullpen sessions on Jan. 6. He called himself "100 percent healthy" and unconcerned about handling a regular workload in 2014.

"I'm not worried," Gonzalez said through an interpreter. "I'll be prepared and ready to go. Stamina, being in shape, that doesn't worry me."

Gonzalez is expected to compete for a spot in the Phillies' rotation, but the competition has increased since he signed 2 days before Labor Day. The Phillies added veteran Roberto Hernandez (1 year, $4.5 million) at the winter meetings and came to an agreement with fellow righthander A.J. Burnett (1 year, $16 million) this week.

Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Burnett and Kyle Kendrick are locks for the top four spots, with Hernandez a heavy favorite for the fifth starter's job. Jonathan Pettibone is also in the mix.

Since the Phillies have invested 3 years and his work has been limited in recent years, Gonzalez could open the season at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

"Those are decisions that are out of my control," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to do my best to do that, but that [decision] is out of my hands."

Another potential role opened on the roster yesterday morning when the Phillies released righthander Chad Gaudin, 30, who was invited into camp as a nonroster player but failed a physical.

Gaudin had a productive season as a swingman on the San Francisco Giants' pitching staff last year and was a strong candidate to be on the Phils' major league staff in the same role.

Gonzalez could emerge as a candidate for that role, although general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he'd prefer him to pitch in a rotation regularly.

"I think he's more suited to be a starter, but we'll keep an open mind," Amaro said. "[Ryan] Madson was a starter . . . all of a sudden, he became pretty darn good and made our club as a reliever and didn't look back."

Although position players aren't required to report to camp until Monday, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley took batting practice during an optional workout at Bright House Field.

Even on Day 1, it had to be a positive sign for the team, since both players were sidelined for extensive time with injuries during the previous three spring trainings.

"I've seen Ryan, and it's really encouraging," Amaro said. "I think he's confident . . . I see him walking around and I see him moving around, I see him taking ground balls, I see him swinging the bat with confidence and driving the ball. He's hitting home runs in BP, and that's a good sign, because I know he's using his lower half, and you have to be able to do that to drive the ball. Those are all good signs."

Ben Revere and Cody Asche were among the other positions players who took part in the voluntary workout. The first official workout for position players is Tuesday.

It wouldn't be an early morning in the Bright House Field clubhouse without Roy Halladay. And, sure enough, the ace pitcher who retired in December was making the rounds with his former teammates yesterday as he started his 2-week stint as a guest instructor. Both Amaro and Sandberg used the same word to describe the first-time coach: outstanding.

"He is very good at it," said Sandberg, who knows something about the transition from elite player to instructor. "Sometimes, it is tough as a player to coach and talk to teammates. What I've seen is he's full of knowledge. He's all-in. He is a total asset to the meetings, as far as the pitching staff goes. Not only that, he's very excited about being here."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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