Gonzalez draws a crowd, but questions remain

Gonzalez draws a crowd, but questions remain

Salisbury gives his views on the Phillies as camp opens

February 13, 2014, 6:15 pm
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Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez threw a bullpen session with the Phillies on Thursday morning in Clearwater. (USA Today Images)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The scene was reminiscent of Roy Halladay’s first official workout with the Phillies in spring training 2010.

A horde of team personnel -- from front-office types to coaches and scouts -- gathered around the bullpen mounds at Carpenter Complex on Thursday morning to check out The Mystery Man, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

Even the recently retired Halladay, in camp for a two-week stint as a guest instructor, was on hand to watch Gonzalez’s bullpen session.

How good is the 27-year-old Cuban defector?

Is he healthy?

Will he be ready to pitch in the Phillies’ starting rotation at the start of the season?

These questions make Gonzalez one of the biggest storylines in camp.

It was no surprise that Carlos Ruiz was the catcher for Gonzalez’s bullpen session. The Phillies want their No. 1 catcher to become familiar with him.

Ruiz’s assessment of Gonzalez’s workout was lukewarm.

“It’s hard to say right now because it’s the first day,” Ruiz said. “He was a little wild. I said to him, ‘It’s the first day of spring training.’ He threw some strikes, but he left some balls up and bounced a couple curveballs.”

Ruiz is right. It’s early. It would be foolish to judge a pitcher on his first bullpen session of spring training.

But Gonzalez better get used to the scrutiny.

The Phillies initially had a $48 million agreement with him last summer. That was reduced to $12 million over three years when health concerns arose after Gonzalez’s physical exam. (He had elbow surgery two years ago.) Gonzalez reported to the Florida Instructional League in September, but did not throw an inning. That was an eyebrow-raiser. Instead, he was put on a strength and conditioning program similar to that of a player coming back from an injury. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. called it a “prehab” program.

All of this has led to questions about wisdom of the signing.

In fact, one has to wonder whether the Phillies would have signed A.J. Burnett this week if Gonzalez had come into the Instructional League looking primed for major-league duty.

Gonzalez can quiet all the questions and concerns about his signing and readiness for the majors with a strong showing these next six weeks in Clearwater. His performance in Grapefruit League games will provide answers about whether he is ready for the big-league rotation or needs time in the minors.

“I’ve seen him twice off the mound and I’m anxious to see him as he builds arm strength and what he looks like with the added size,” manager Ryne Sandberg said after watching Gonzalez on Thursday. “It’s good to see what he’s got.”

Gonzalez has been throwing bullpen sessions since early January. He said Thursday’s was the seventh or eighth that he has thrown.

He also said that he is “100 percent” healthy and promised to be “ready to go” for opening day.

Does he envision himself in the season-opening rotation?

“Those decisions are out of my control,” he said through an interpreter. “I’ll do my best to do that. I’m here to pitch.”