Gonzalez, Phils knocked around in spring outing

Ineffective defector: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Phillies' $12 million import from Cuba.
Ineffective defector: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Phillies' $12 million import from Cuba. (Associated Press)
Posted: March 09, 2014

SARASOTA, Fla. - Listed second on Friday's pitching schedule tacked to a board in the Phillies clubhouse was "Gonzalez 2-3." Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez threw 31 pitches in one inning, and that was enough for Bob McClure, even though the plan called for more. The pitching coach waved at the bullpen from the dugout.

Later, Ryne Sandberg used the words "rust" and "erratic" to describe Gonzalez, the team's $12 million import from Cuba. There is opportunity; the Phillies lack a genuine replacement for Cole Hamels in the rotation. But Gonzalez, barring extraordinary progress in three weeks' time, will not be that pitcher.

Sandberg said as much when he digested a 15-4 spring shellacking exacerbated by Gonzalez's one impotent inning.

"You know what," Sandberg said, "we're just going to be slow with him and adjust to what he does and help bring him along to get him ready for the baseball season."

The Phillies, upon signing Gonzalez in August to an amended three-year, $12 million contract, believed the 27-year-old righthander could slot into the middle of their 2014 rotation. He eventually could be that pitcher, but two years without real competition has rendered Gonzalez into a spring project. He could be sent to minor-league camp when games begin next week.

Gonzalez permitted four runs on four hits and two walks in the fourth inning with the Orioles still playing their regulars. Nick Markakis, who has 15 career triples in eight seasons, blasted Gonzalez's second pitch for a triple. His third pitch sailed to the backstop and scored Markakis.

Perhaps the Phillies' expectations weren't fair for Gonzalez, who was suspended from professional play in Cuba because of his first failed attempt at defecting. But it was general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. who said in August, "He has a chance to be pretty special."

Gonzalez will require more time to reach that level. His fastball sat Friday between 88-90 m.p.h. He, again, attempted to rely on his breaking pitches. He threw first-pitch strikes to four of the nine batters he faced. Seventeen of his 31 pitches were strikes.

"I feel better about my location," Gonzalez said through a translator.

He said his comfort level improved from his first outing, an inconsistent effort against the Yankees last week. He wanted to pitch another inning Friday.

"I'm here to pitch, to play baseball," Gonzalez said. "Whatever decision they make, I will go along with it. I would have loved to continue, but that was the plan."

The fifth-starter competition, as Sandberg outlined it Thursday, is between Jeff Manship, Sean O'Sullivan, and David Buchanan. Buchanan allowed one run in one inning Friday against Baltimore's reserves. Manship will start Sunday against Minnesota.

Times are so desperate that a published report suggesting recent contact between the Phillies and free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana gained traction Friday afternoon. A team source strongly refuted that. The Phillies, with a payroll near $189 million when calculated for luxury tax purposes, are financially tapped.

The answer must come from within, or on a late-spring waiver claim. Buchanan was the last in-house player invited to camp. Injuries to Hamels, Jonathan Pettibone, and Ethan Martin transformed the 24-year-old righthander into a potentially important piece.

"I really try not to pay attention to that stuff," Buchanan said. "Those decisions are made above my head."

The Phillies wanted Gonzalez to seize a spot. Three weeks of spring training produced scant evidence of Gonzalez's immediate potential. One inning and 31 pitches offered plenty on this day.

"It's still an unknown and he's still in the process of getting rust off and trying to improve quality and have some outings," Sandberg said. "But he threw too many pitches in an inning there to allow him to go back out."


@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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