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Frustrated Gonzalez Says He’s Got Plenty Left In Tank

April 2, 2019 GMT

MOOSIC — Gio Gonzalez is used to supplying the punchouts. The southpaw has more than 1,700 in his 11-year career. This offseason, however, Gonzalez felt like the one taking the punches. He heard about velocity. He heard about spin rates. He heard about a couple bad months that were somehow defining his future. He was a 33-year-old free agent with a 3.69 ERA for his career, but he couldn’t find a job. “No, I don’t feel I’m done,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t feel like I lost a step. I know I feel I can still bob and weave and punch the way I used to in my prime in my time.” The Yankees finally came calling with a minor league deal near the end of spring training, and now Gonzalez is about to get the start in the RailRiders’ season opener against Buffalo on Thursday. It will be his first Triple-A game since June 18, 2009. “I feel like I can still compete at a high level,” he said during the team’s media day Monday. “I feel like I can help out in any way. But it was a rude awakening. It was very unfortunate. It was very sad. It was one of those things where you take a step back and kind of like scratch your head and say, ‘Man, imagine if you really had a bad year?’ ” Gonzalez went 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA last season, making 27 starts for Washington before being traded to Milwaukee for five starts during their playoff push. He went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA for the Brewers. “That was overlooked completely,” Gonzalez said. “No one, when I was sitting at home, no one mentioned that. All they mentioned was from June, July. Two months in two years. That, to me, was remarkable.” Gonzalez had a 2.67 ERA in April and an even better 1.47 ERA in May. June crashed hard, though, when he allowed 20 runs in 21⅓ innings — an 8.44 ERA. He halved that in July (a 4.08 ERA), but August saw more struggles with a 7.47 ERA in 31⅓ innings. “I was getting all the compliments in the world a year before that,” he said. “Now, I have a little bit of a hiccup — and it really was two months, two or three months of that two years of a hiccup — and I was pretty much written off.” In 2017, Gonzalez went 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA, finishing sixth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award. His 6.5 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com, ranked third in baseball for pitchers, trailing only Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (8.1), the American League Cy Young winner, and Washington’s Max Scherzer (7.2), who took the N.L. prize. His fastball actually went up a tick in 2018 — from 90 mph to 90.1 mph according to Statcast — but Gonzalez knows that’s not his game and he’s OK with it. In an age when everyone’s throwing 95, he likes to keep guys off balance; get them out in front of pitches. His curveball still has a well-above-average spin rate. “If I can be perfect, obviously I’d be a Cy Young winner every day, or every year, so, I mean, you’ve got to be realistic,” he said. “But it doesn’t define who I am. I’m tired of hearing age and velocity. If you can get outs, you can get outs anywhere. That just, to me, needs to start coming to an end. Spin rate, this and that — spin rate’s great, yeah, when you actually execute your pitch.” Gonzalez is the oldest player on the RailRiders opening day roster and he has by far the most big league experience — he’s a two-time all-star and also finished third in N.L. Cy Young voting in 2012. He said he doesn’t want to bring his free agency frustrations in front of his teammates here. He doesn’t want to be bitter, or sad or disappointed. He wants to be as positive as he can be, to be able to pass on the things he’s learned over the years. “Really surprised (he’s here),” said Nestor Cortes Jr., Gonzalez’s teammate and a friend from their shared hometown of Hialeah, Florida. “Never would’ve thought that it would come down to this, but I’m really happy.” Cortes will start the third game of the season, new RailRiders manager Jay Bell revealed. Chance Adams follows Gonzalez in Game 2. “Man, the guy’s got, what, nine plus (years) in the big leagues? And pitched pretty well in all nine of them, I think,” Cortes said. “So, it’s kind of hard actually seeing him. I consider him my friend now and it sucks that he didn’t get an opportunity to be in the big leagues from the get go.” Contact the writer: cfoley@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9125; @RailRidersTT on Twitter