Phillies' Gonzalez shaky in short outing against Orioles

DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has not shown the kind of work needed for him to stay with big-league club.
DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has not shown the kind of work needed for him to stay with big-league club.
Posted: March 09, 2014

SARASOTA, Fla. - Standing on the dugout steps, in front of a trio of blue coolers, Bob McClure spoke, Freddy Galvis translated, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez listened. The end came mercifully, a David Lough popout that lingered long enough over the field of play for Cody Asche to glove it in foul territory. This was was the 31st pitch of what was almost certainly Gonzalez' last inning as a candidate for the Phillies' rotation.

The previous 30 left little doubt about the the work the organization's developmental staff will need to perform to get the 26-year-old righthander to a point at which he can retire major league hitters. Maybe the Phillies will run Gonzalez out to the mound for another Grapefruit League outing. But yesterday, after the Orioles turned four hits and two walks into four runs against him, they had seen enough. The meeting broke, McClure waved his hand from side to side, and Gonzalez nodded. In the background, down the leftfield line, a pitcher in the visitors' bullpen climbed onto a mound.

"He was just erratic out there," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "His fastball wasn't effective. He tried to pitch backwards a little bit with some offspeed stuff. I'd just say that he's showing some of his rust that he has. Along with that comes being erratic with pitches and not getting away with it, that's for sure."

It is important to remember that the Phillies have 3 years for their $12 million foray into the Cuban market to pay off. One season of Bronson Arroyo-ish production would accomplish that. But it is looking increasingly unlikely that 2014 will be that season, at least not at the start of it, when the Phillies might need it most, with lefthander Cole Hamels set to begin the season on the disabled list after a setback in his recovery from biceps tendinitis. Instead, they will send 29-year-old non-roster invitee Jeff Manship to the mound tomorrow for his first start of the Grapefruit League, 4 days after doing the same with fellow minor league veteran Sean O'Sullivan.

Yesterday, Gonzalez looked a lot like the pitcher who faced the Yankees last weekend. He started things off by yanking his first pitch outside to Nick Markakis, then threw what looked to be a 1-0 cutter that the Orioles veteran laced inside first base to the rightfield corner for a triple. Gonzalez' first pitch to the next batter was a fastball in the dirt that got passed catcher Cameron Rupp, allowing Markakis to score. He ended up allowing four runs, the last on a hanging changeup that most hitters who aren't Jemile Weeks would have knocked out of the park. As it was, Weeks sent Marlon Byrd scrambling back to the wall for a sacrifice fly.

By now, Gonzalez' backstory should be well known. He has not pitched regularly in competitive situations in nearly 2 years, thanks to a combination of elbow surgery and failed attempts to defect from Cuba that resulted in his suspension.

"In some ways, from the get-go it's been a process with him, not only to see him, but to help him along, to build him up and to get him ready for a baseball season," Sandberg said. "It's still an unknown. He's still in the process of getting rust off . . . He threw too many pitches in an inning there to let him go back out."

At some point, the Phillies will have to decide whether it is even productive to keep Gonzalez in major league camp. The Phillies have to get a good look at guys such as Manship, O'Sullivan and David Buchanan, who pleased Sandberg with the one inning he pitched yesterday. It can't be good for anybody's morale - Gonzalez, or the players who will make up the Phillies' 25-man roster - to see one of the team's marquee acquisitions struggling as mightily as Gonzalez has. Sandberg said it is still "too early" for that kind of consideration.

"We're just going to be slow with him and adjust to what he does," the manager said. "Like I said, help bring him along to get him ready for a baseball season."

Buchanan, who posted a 4.82 ERA in 22 Double A starts and a 3.00 ERA in six Triple A starts last season, allowed one run on two hits, one of them a double, and recorded all three of his outs on the ground, the last two by way of a doubleplay.

O'Sullivan and Manship both have big-league experience. O'Sullivan, a 26-year-old righty, has a 6.02 ERA in 37 career starts, three of them for the Padres last season. Manship has a 6.19 ERA in 10 starts, four of them last season for the Rockies, including one against the Phillies.

Thus far this spring, Manship appears to have better stuff. In four innings, he has retired 10 of 12 batters, five via strikeout. He has yet to walk a batter.

"From what our scouts have seen of him, he's always had a good arm, I think for him it's always been a matter of being able to command the zone better," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I think that's true with all pitchers. Sometimes guys get it late, sometimes guys get it early. Perhaps what Bob [McClure] has been preaching to the group here, keep the ball down, keep it simple, maybe that's clicking with him, who knows."

For R.A. Dickey, it clicked when he was a 35-year-old minor league free agent with a rebuilding Mets team. For Ryan Vogelsong, it clicked when he was 33 years old and 5 years removed from his last appearance in the majors.

The Phillies would be thrilled if it clicked for Manship this year. After seven seasons in the Twins organization, the righthander spent last year with the Rockies. A Notre Dame grad who was raised in San Antonio, Texas, Manship now lives in Austin, where he spent the offseason working with renowned college pitching guru Skip Johnson at the University of Texas.

Nick Markakis robbed Marlon Byrd of extra bases in the second inning when he tracked down deep drive to the rightfield alley off a Ubaldo Jimenez fastball . . . A.J. Burnett allowed a two-run home run over the centerfield batter's eye to Ryan Flaherty in the second inning . . . It was a sloppy game for the Phillies, and Ryne Sandberg was not thrilled afterward. The Phillies committed two errors and misplayed several more balls in a 15-4 loss that dropped them to 1-8 in Grapefruit League play.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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