At this point in the season, everyone knows and loves the grinning goofball Gio Gonzalez, but another left-handed Gonzalez, who is lesser known to most Nats fans, joined the Washington Nationals pitching staff this week: reliever Michael Gonzalez.
Considered by some as one of the most desired free agents over the winter, Gonzalez has landed with the Nationals after recovering from off-season knee surgery in a move that will make their already talented bullpen even stronger.
So far as a National, Gonzalez hasn’t disappointed. In his first outing during the Sunday match-up against the Atlanta Braves, he pitched a scoreless eighth inning, allowing only one hit on 12 pitches, eight of which he threw for strikes.
He again made an appearance in the eighth inning of the 12-inning marathon against the New York Mets on Tuesday night, throwing just one pitch to Daniel Murphy – a 92 mph fastball – to record the final out of the inning.
Though certainly a very small sample size, that effectiveness is suggestive of what we should expect from Gonzalez. Throughout his 10 seasons as a Major Leaguer, the 34-year-old has posted a 2.93 ERA and has tallied 56 saves in 71 opportunities. He had a banner year in 2006 for the Pirates, going 24-for-24 in saves/save opportunities and ranking ninth in the Major Leagues for number of saves despite his season ending early due to an elbow injury. Throughout his career, Gonzalez has relied mostly on a fastball-slider-changeup combination on about a 62-36-2 percent ratio, and his fastball velocity is clocked at an average 92.5 mph with his slider averaging 82.6 mph.
Gonzalez’s history includes bouncing around to several different teams and struggling with several different injuries, but he has still managed to play a successful 16 years of baseball.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Texas native was drafted in the 30th round by the Pittsburg Pirates in 1997. He made his MLB debut in 2003 with the Pirates and he stayed with them until 2007 when he became part of a trade that included swapping him for Adam LaRoche of the Atlanta Braves.
His 2007 season was shut down prematurely after the Braves' management noticed his struggling with his fastball velocity during a game against the Nationals. After that game, he was placed on the disabled list and underwent Tommy John surgery several months later.
Gonzalez made a healthy return to pitch for the Braves in June of 2008, but he ultimately left them in 2010 for a $12 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. He was traded from the O’s to the Texas Rangers in 2011 before becoming a free agent and ultimately ending up with the Nationals.
Although Gonzalez has become the fifth lefty on the Nationals’ staff and the fourth in the bullpen, he is likely here to stay. He turned down an invitation to the Rangers’ spring training camp as a non-roster invitee this year, suggesting he is not interested in playing at the minor league level at this point in his career.
This means that the Nationals are most likely going to expand their bullpen to eight relievers to create space for him when Brad Lidge, Ryan Mattheus, and Drew Storen start returning from the DL, as attributed to manager Davey Johnson in the Washington Post.
Gonzalez will appreciate the adjustment, as he joined the Nationals ready to win. He is quoted on MLB.com calling the Nats “obviously contenders,” and identifying pitching for them as “a good opportunity…to win ballgames.” If Gonzalez continues to contribute to getting those wins as he has so far, Nationals fans are sure to warmly welcome the newcomer to their contending team.