TAMPA, Fla. – Recently signed lefthander Gio Gonzalez may well be close to game-ready, but the Yankees won’t be in a rush to get him into one in the regular season.
With CC Sabathia and Luis Severino set to start the season on the injured list, general manager Brian Cashman said his preference is to have some combination of Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa fill those rotation spots.
“Optimally, I’d like to have the kids that we have, rely on those guys, to be honest,” Cashman said Thursday morning before the Yankees played the Cardinals in Jupiter, Florida. “We really do believe in the ceilings of the Cessas and Loaisigas and the Germans and we think those guys have earned the right for an opportunity and they’re going to get those opportunities.”
Gonzalez, 33, officially signed to a minor-league deal Monday, threw his first bullpen session as a Yankee Thursday morning in Tampa. He will make his spring debut Saturday against the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field.
Gonzalez will earn a base salary of $3 million if he’s on the roster and has an out clause he can exercise April 20 if he’s not in the majors.
“Obviously, with Gio sitting out there, we swung through to see if he wanted to come in here and be part of an insurance in the event things go wrong and [is] waiting in the wings in the event that happens,” Cashman said. “But he has to compete to put himself in position to be a legitimate option and so we’ll evaluate that over the coming month and see what happens.”
During his lengthy free agency without an offer, Gonzalez went through a simulated spring training, most recently throwing an 88-pitch simulated game on Monday. During Thursday's bullpen session, pitching coach Larry Rothschild twice said “that’s real good,” referencing a new pitch Gonzalez is attempting to add to his repertoire – a cutter.
“It’s a good sign when he’s saying, ‘It’s a lot better than what you think,’ ” Gonzalez said. “To me that’s a big compliment, especially a pitch I just started working with.”
Gonzalez, 127-97 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons, said it couldn’t hurt to add a pitch.
“I’m hoping [it makes] a big difference,” he said. “I’m hoping it gives me an extra pitch to work with, which is always a plus in this game, especially in this division.”
Sabathia, who made his spring debut in a minor-league game Thursday afternoon, is a close friend of Gonzalez’s. Sabathia added a cutter several years ago, though that came as a response to his struggles as he dealt with a significant dip in velocity as he got older.
“I think just trusting it,” Sabathia said of the most difficult part of adding a pitch late in one’s career. “Your whole life you pitch one way and then all of a sudden you’re supposed to try and change things. Once I committed fully to the cutter and trusted it was going to work and that I could get outs with it, it’s gotten better and better every year.”
Gonzalez will get to test his cutter Saturday against major-league hitters, but there might be a bit of a wait before he has a chance to test it in a major-league game that counts.
“We love to reinforce the investment in our kids and give them the opportunity,” Cashman said. “But if that doesn’t exist and he [Gonzalez] puts himself in the mix enough, then yeah, we’ll have decisions to make with him. That’s why he’s here. He’s going to get a real fair look, and a free look, as will we. It’s important to get in camp early, like on time, for you to be a legitimate chance to force your way on. These other guys are here, so those are the guys we’re really focused on right now, and if Gio sneaks up on us, that could be a great story. But that’s a story down the line.”
With David Lennon in Jupiter, Florida