Gonzalez not sharp in debut with Phillies

The Phillies' Kyle Kendrick is on the verge of free agency next season, and other pitchers with his numbers have been getting big contracts.
The Phillies' Kyle Kendrick is on the verge of free agency next season, and other pitchers with his numbers have been getting big contracts. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 03, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. - The moment arrived Saturday at 1:36 p.m., when Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez threw his final practice pitches. The announcer at Steinbrenner Field unveiled the unknown with a fitting blunder: "Now pitching for the Phillies, No. 75, Alfredo Gonzalez."

The baseball world waited for a different mystery pitcher. Masahiro Tanaka, the $155 million import from Japan, stirred in the Yankees bullpen. Three Japanese TV stations broadcast his every movement to a sleepy country.

But this, finally, was Gonzalez's chance, 218 days after initial reports of his signing with the Phillies. He twice attempted to defect from Cuba. He was banned from pitching in his homeland after he was captured the first time. He last pitched competitively in early 2012, and the Phillies paid him a $5 million signing bonus.

Gonzalez struck out the first two batters, both Yankees minor-leaguers, in the third inning of a 4-0 Phillies loss. He loaded the bases on two walks and a single. Gonzalez threw 51 pitches in all, walked four over 12/3 innings, and the moment appeared to overwhelm the 27-year-old righthander. He looked like a pitcher who had not pitched in two years.

"The more I pitch, the better I will feel," Gonzalez said through a translator.

Gonzalez did not resemble the power pitcher the Phillies scouted and wooed with a $48 million contract, but there were hints of talent. The guaranteed money dropped to $12.3 million amid concerns about his health. The Phillies spent the subsequent months downgrading expectations.

Gonzalez's fastball sat at 91 to 93 m.p.h. in his first inning, according to one scout's radar gun. The velocity dipped to 88 to 90 m.p.h. in the next inning.

When Ruben Amaro Jr. announced Gonzalez's addition six months ago, he said his scouts saw the Cuban throw at 93 to 97 m.p.h.

"He has a chance to be pretty special," Amaro said then.

Attaining that goal could require patience.

"I'm not happy at all," Gonzalez said about his velocity. "I'm not satisfied at all. I believe I have some more in the tank. It should be coming around."

Manager Ryne Sandberg said Gonzalez "might have looked like he had a little rust."

The Yankees employed a lineup of regulars - Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts started. But three of Gonzalez's five outs were recorded against minor-leaguers named Corban Joseph and Mason Williams.

Gonzalez said he relied on his curveball because he could not locate his fastball. Just 26 of his 51 pitches were strikes. He said his arm felt fine despite some tightness earlier in the week.

"I think things just sped up on him a bit when he got into trouble, and he never settled down," said one scout who watched Gonzalez for the first time. "His stuff wasn't that bad."

There is no better indicator of the Phillies' diminished expectations for Gonzalez than in the language of his contract. He will make $2 million this season but can earn bonuses if he makes as few as 10 starts. The Phillies will pay him $500,000 at that plateau. He can earn an additional $500,000 for 15 games started, $1 million for 20 games started, and $1.5 million apiece for reaching 25 and 30 starts.

For Sandberg, one Grapefruit League outing is not a measuring stick.

"You just continue to watch him and see him outing by outing," Sandberg said. "I thought that first inning, that was some of the best pop that we've seen from the fastball this spring, especially ones down. So that was an improvement."

Pitching coach Bob McClure sauntered to the mound at 2:08 p.m. and fetched Gonzalez with two outs in the fourth inning and runners on second and third.

"Next time around," Gonzalez said, "I will be ready."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb

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