Orioles' Miguel Gonzalez's long journey was worth it
Miguel Gonzalez's baseball odyssey began in 2005, when the Los Angeles Angels signed him to a contract, then thought so little of his potential that they left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. The Boston Red Sox selected him in 2008, but after two visits to the operating table, they released him last winter.
In the Mexican League, Gonzalez found redemption, and the Orioles in turn found him. Now, Gonzalez, a 28-year-old rookie, has become perhaps their best starting pitcher in the second half.
On a scout's advice, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette signed Gonzalez to a minor-league deal last March, though the righthander didn't warrant a look in spring training. Instead, the team sent him to Triple-A, where he remained until the Orioles found themselves desperate for starting pitching.
Gonzalez made his first major-league start July 6, allowing one run in seven innings against his former team, the Angels. It began a string of 15 starts in which he went 9-4 with a 3.36 ERA.
"Miguel is a talented young man," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I think sometimes that gets overlooked."
Indeed, the path toward redemption has been forged on the mound. The results have been season-altering for the Orioles, who were 11-4 in the games he started. "Miguel has put himself in a position to contribute," Showalter said. "And he's a great story about perseverance and just a strong will to succeed."
Somewhere along that winding road, Gonzalez learned to combine that will with his talent. Though he can throw in the mid-90s, one talent evaluator said he is at his best when throwing in the low 90s, which allows natural movement.
"[He] basically executes," said the talent evaluator, who watched several of Gonzalez's starts this season. "He is really sneaky, commands four pitches. Not a real 'banger' velocity guy but everything moves and he locates well."
Against the Yankees, he's been at his sharpest. In two starts at Yankee Stadium, Gonzalez went 2-0, allowing four runs in 132/3 innings. In that span, he has whiffed 17 and walked one. His best work has come against the most powerful bats in the Yankees' lineup.
Though Gonzalez has yet to face Alex Rodriguez, the quartet of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira have gone a combined 0-for-21 against him with 12 strikeouts. His dominance over those hitters underscores a trend that has helped Gonzalez. Even though he's a righty, Gonzalez has taken away any meaningful platoon advantage against lefthanded hitters, whom he has held to a .250 batting average.
"If you sit there and try to grade one pitch, he may not get a huge break like some other guys but when you put the total package together, you see why he's been successful," Showalter said. "He's a great example to pitchers not only with our team but in the organization about pitching instead of throwing. He's a guy that understands the art of pitching."
"It was pretty tough on me," Gonzalez said. "But I stayed within myself, kept working, just did what I had to do, and it paid off. It's been fun ever since."