Gonzalez could soon shed the mystery surrounding him

Posted: August 29, 2014

'HE WAS erratic out there."

Those were manager Ryne Sandberg's words the last time he saw Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez pitch in a Phillies uniform. And Sandberg was actually kind with his choice of words.

Gonzalez, the 27-year-old Cuban defector, had allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in an inning of work in a blowout loss to the Baltimore Orioles in a spring training game in Sarasota, Fla. Gonzalez would be sidelined for the remainder of spring training with shoulder woes, which had plagued him from the time he signed with the Phillies.

That last game was nearly 6 months ago. Gonzalez has since switched to pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, where he has a 1.93 ERA in 10 games with Triple A Lehigh Valley.

He is almost a lock to join the Phillies by Monday, when major league rosters expand for the season's final month. And Sandberg, like anyone else, is eager to see how far the pitcher has come since an ugly showing this spring.

"He wasn't sharp, he wasn't strong in spring training," Sandberg said. "So to see what he's doing now, see what that looks like, anxious to see that if he's one of the guys. He should be one of the guys."

Gonzalez' arrival to the major leagues is likely to come within days of the 1-year anniversary of his arrival into the Phillies organization. On Aug. 30, 2013, the Phillies signed the pitcher to a 3-year, $12 million deal.

An agreement between the parties actually was reached more than a month earlier, reportedly for four times the value of the final contract, but concerns over Gonzalez' medical reports changed the final dollar figure before the i's were dotted, the t's were crossed, and the pitcher's signature appeared on the document.

Gonzalezs work was limited when he arrived to Clearwater late last summer during Instructional League play. He threw a couple of bullpens and was shut down.

When he returned to Clearwater for spring training in February, Gonzalez truly was an international man of mystery. The drama only continued when he looked more than a little rusty in bullpen sessions and only two Grapefruit League games.

One afternoon, he quietly departed camp to have his right arm examined.

"I saw him when he first got going in spring training, and, you know, it just wasn't working good," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. "It was hard to find a lot that you liked."

Gonzalez got back on the mound in mid-May for Class A Clearwater. His struggles continued.

Gonzalez went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts for the Threshers. He walked nine while striking out three in 9 1/3 innings.

But a month later, the Phils decided to try the $12 million man as a reliever. The results have been more than encouraging.

Gonzalez' fastball was hovered in the mid- to upper 90s as a reliever.

In 30 games among Clearwater, Double A Reading and Lehigh Valley, Gonzalez has a 3.17 ERA and seven saves. He's struck out 52 while walking 27 in 45 1/3 innings.

Gonzalez entered yesterday with a 10-inning shutout streak with the IronPigs, then shut out Pawtucket for 1 2/3 innings, striking out all five batters he faced. On Monday against Syracuse, he retired all six batters he faced, striking out three.

"He was a major league pitcher last night," Jordan said on Tuesday, a day after watching the pitcher in person at Coca -Cola Park in Allentown. "His top-skill fastball, drove the ball down in the zone, followed the glove. It's the best I've seen him throw. It was very exciting. And against a very good hitting Triple A hitting club, I guess they have the best record in Triple A baseball, Syracuse. For two innings, he overmatched them. Right through the good part of the lineup. I've seen him every step along the way and last night was the best I've seen him."

If Gonzalez can continue that upward progression from the minor leagues to the major leagues, the Phillies might finally find a positive in the investment that's cost them $5 million in the last calendar year ($2 million signing bonus, $3 million salary this season).

But the mystery of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is likely to continue into the winter.

When the Phillies signed the pitcher, who turns 28 next month, they were hopeful he'd be able to jump into the starting rotation at or near that start of this season. That obviously did not happen.

But with several holes in that same starting rotation beyond 2014 - only Cole Hamels and David Buchanan are under contract after this season - the Phillies probably owe it to themselves, based on need and the dollars allotted to Gonzalez, to try him as a starter again. Perhaps it will come in the Arizona Fall League, where the Phillies still have one player vacancy to fill on the Scottsdale Scorpions roster.

"I don't know if he can or not," Jordan said when asked whether Gonzalez could transition his current success as a reliever to a starting role. "I think we reached a point this summer where it was, what can we do to get him ready where he's able to perform, and obviously with what our scouts saw him do in the past. And maybe it turns into confidence, allows us at some point in time to lengthen him out. Right now, I just think it was about getting him in a role where he can have some success."

If power hitting corner outfielder Maikel Franco does not arrive next month, Gonzalez will be the most intriguing player to watch among the Phillies' September call-ups. Even if his future is as a reliever - where the team is already teeming with late-inning talent with the likes of Ken Giles and Jake Diekman - Gonzalez will have an opportunity to showcase his talent on a big stage for the first time since his short and forgettable audition last spring.

"I'll tell you the thing this guy will do - and I've seen him do it 2 or 3 times this summer - he'll get to a good hitter in the lineup, and when he knows it's the best hitter in the lineup, he's got another gear," Jordan said. "I saw it [Monday] night, I saw it in the Florida State League, and I've seen it in Double A. So it'll be interesting as we watch this guy in the next year or 2; obviously, a major league lineup gives you more opportunities to do that. But I've seen it. It's been impressive. He'll pick out the guy in the lineup who's supposed to be the best guy and he'll go out and get him. It'll be interesting to see."

Trade complete

The Phillies acquired 19-year-old righthander Victor Arano from the Dodgers, completing the trade that sent Roberto Hernandez to Los Angeles earlier this month.

Arano, originally signed as a free agent out of Mexico in April 2013, was 4-7 with a 4.08 ERA in 22 games (15 starts) at Class A Great Lakes this season. He struck out 83 and walked 20 in 86 innings.

The Phillies originally sent Hernandez to the Dodgers on Aug. 7 for two players to be named later. The Phillies acquired infielder Jesmuel Valentin as the first part of the trade on Aug. 16. The 20-year-old Valentin, the 51st overall pick in the 2013 draft, is at Class A Clearwater, where Arano also will report.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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