Meet Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Phillies pitcher

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Meet Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Phillies pitcher

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The first thing you notice about Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is the classic pitcher’s body. He is tall -- 6-foot-3 -- and lean, and has the kind of long, whippy arm that impresses scouts and makes general managers reach for their checkbooks.

The next thing you notice about Gonzalez is the pained look on his face when he talks about defecting from his homeland, Cuba, earlier this year to chase his dream of pitching in the major leagues.

“It has been tough being away from my family,” he said in Spanish. “It has definitely been tough. I have no regrets, the distance between me and my family -- my mother, aunts, cousins -- is the only thing.”

For security reasons, Gonzalez does not say much more about his defection, but as the conversation turns to the international language of baseball and his new baseball home -- Philadelphia -- the hint of a smile appears on his face.

“I feel like the change has been a good one,” he said.

This conversation with Gonzalez occurred Thursday at the Phillies’ spring-training complex in Clearwater. Six weeks earlier, the 27-year-old, power-arm right-hander signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies.

“I hope he slides into our rotation for 2014,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said on the day the deal was finalized. “Great stuff. We’ll see how it translates at the major-league level.”

With a translating assist from Ray Robles, the Phillies’ coordinator of international operations, Gonzalez spoke with Philadelphia-based reporters for the first time Thursday. He talked about his hopes and dreams, his health and his style of pitching.

“I have several pitches,” he said. “Fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter, splitter.”

He paused.

“Knuckleball. Sinker.”

Knuckleball?

Si.”

That’s more than several.

***

Gonzalez said he’s able to use any of those pitches in a game. He was asked how he decided which pitch to throw and his answer was that of an educated baseball man.

“Every day is different,” he said. “The hitter will show you what kind of pitch you want to throw.

“The main thing for me is location, getting the pitches where I want them.”

That comment provided a good segue.

Gonzalez, who pitched in two World Cup tournaments for Cuba, was suspended from his national team after a failed attempt to defect in 2012. He has pitched only a handful of competitive innings in the last 18 months, mostly during a showcase for major-league clubs this summer in Mexico. When is this guy going to get on a bullpen mound and show off some of that repertoire? He has spent the last month conditioning his body and arm but has yet to throw off a bullpen mound.

Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development, said the plan was for Gonzalez to throw off a mound in the next week or 10 days, then move into an offseason conditioning program before starting a pre-spring training throwing program in January.

“Initially we were thinking we were going to get him into bullpens, but we decided it just wasn’t the right thing to do,” Jordan said. “He had gone on this lengthy tour throwing for teams and showcasing himself. Then he took six weeks off before we signed him. We decided there was no need to accelerate him just so we could see a bullpen.

“We decided to slow him down and get him a good base, start him from the ground up -- conditioning program, shoulder program, long-toss. He’s been 100 percent committed.

“Once spring training starts, he’s going to be familiar with what we do to prepare and condition the arm, the shoulder. We’ve gotten through that so it won’t be as foreign when spring training starts.”

Gonzalez didn’t have a problem with the Phillies’ taking the slow road because he encountered some hurdles when he cranked up his arm after the layoff.

“I didn’t feel quite there yet,” he said. “I didn’t feel coordinated.”

He’s throwing long-toss at 120 feet now and feels …

“Excellent,” he said. “I am finally finding myself again. A year and a half not pitching … I wasn’t coordinated and with a month of training here, I feel like I’m coming back."


***

Questions remain.

For instance, will Gonzalez be ready to compete for a spot next to Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the starting rotation in mid-February?

Minor-league pitching coordinator Carlos Arroyo, who has been with Gonzalez for a month, said yes.

So did Jordan.

So did Gonzalez.

“Slowing him down was the best thing to happen,” Arroyo said. “It got him to understand how we work and how to become a professional and take care of his arm.

“He’s healthy and sound.”

Gonzalez has had arm issues. He had bone chips surgically removed from his elbow in January 2012. Many pitchers have that surgery in their careers, and Gonzalez said he received an excellent procedure and is 100 percent healthy.

However, the Phillies clearly had some level of concern about Gonzalez’s health. The two sides initially agreed on a six-year, $48 million contract in July, but it was reworked after Gonzalez was examined by Phillies doctors.

“No comment,” Gonzalez said about the reworked deal.

If Gonzalez is as good as scouts think he can be, he will make plenty of money in this game. Amaro said Phillies’ scouts believe Gonzalez can become a No. 2 or 3 starter. The Phils need guys like that -- and soon. As of right now, they have only two sure-things in the 2014 rotation -- Hamels and Lee.

“It will be very exciting to pitch with them,” Gonzalez said. “It will be an extra help for me. It stimulates me to become better and become like them.”

***

Gonzalez will become the fourth Cuban defector to pitch for the Phillies, joining Eddie Oropesa, Danys Baez and Jose Contreras. Recently, Gonzalez has drawn inspiration from countrymen Yeonis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, two of his contemporaries who have gone on to become offensive forces for the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.

Gonzalez fantasizes about facing them in a major-league game.

“It will be something spectacular,” he said. “Their success feels like my own because they are Cuban and they are friends.”

Gonzalez was asked whether he believed he could be an impact player like his two friends.

“Nobody knows that yet,” he said.

What do you feel in your heart?

“I feel good, confident and I feel like I’m capable,” he said. “But the future cannot be predicted. You have to do it and let things flow.

“Right now I’m just focused on my work, my job and helping my team. I’m focused on the great opportunity that it is to play for the Phillies. That’s what I am most gracious about.”

MLB Notes: Nationals place Stephen Drew on DL

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MLB Notes: Nationals place Stephen Drew on DL

CLEVELAND -- Unable to figure out what's making Stephen Drew dizzy, the Washington Nationals placed the veteran infielder on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.

Drew has played just once in the past week, delivering a walk-off triple to give Washington a win over San Diego on Saturday. Manager Dusty Baker said the 33-year-old Drew has been experiencing vertigo-like symptoms and the team is sending him back to Washington for more medical tests.

"He wasn't getting any better," Baker said before the Nationals concluded their two-game interleague series with the Indians. "He was dizzy. He was kind of worried and didn't know what it was because he's had two concussions, but he hadn't had anything that would have caused another concussion. Whenever you feel woozy and dizzy and don't get any better, that's a pretty good indication that something's wrong."

Drew sat out several days last week because he was feeling ill. He's in his first season with the Nationals, who signed him as a free agent in January (see full story).

Padres: Solarte placed on family leave list
TORONTO -- The San Diego Padres made a few roster moves before Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays, recalling utilityman Alexi Amarista and left-hander Buddy Baumann from Triple-A El Paso.

The newcomers replace outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., who was traded to Toronto on Tuesday, and third baseman Yangervis Solarte, who was placed on the family leave list and will miss from three to seven days.

Solarte is batting .290 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs.

This is Amarista's fourth stint with the Padres this season. The six-year veteran is batting .239 with no homers and seven RBIs in 45 games.

Baumann joins the Padres for the second time. He made his major league debut with 1-3 of an inning against San Francisco on July 16, retiring Brandon Crawford on one pitch.

Peter Bourjos 'still sore,' likely headed to DL with right shoulder injury

Peter Bourjos 'still sore,' likely headed to DL with right shoulder injury

MIAMI – A stint on the disabled list looks likely for Peter Bourjos, who injured his right shoulder running into the outfield wall while making a catch Tuesday night.

“It’s not any worse, but it’s still sore,” Bourjos reported Wednesday morning.

Bourjos sounded pessimistic when asked if he thought he could avoid a trip to the disabled list.
 
“I don’t know,” he said.
 
Bourjos indicated that he has some range of motion issues.
 
Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said the team would continue to evaluate Bourjos and provide further word Thursday.

Bourjos’ injury comes with outfielder Aaron Altherr’s minor-league rehab stint expiring on Wednesday. Altherr is expected to be activated Thursday. Bourjos could end up going on the DL to make room for Altherr.

Phillies officials had been considering a number of ways to make room for Altherr. One of them was trading Bourjos. That option is now on hold, though Bourjos could still be moved in a waiver deal in August if he's healthy.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Zach Eflin looks for 7th straight quality start

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Zach Eflin looks for 7th straight quality start

Phillies (46-56) at Marlins (54-46)
12:10 p.m. on CSN

A night after shutting out the Marlins, the Phillies were blanked themselves, falling to the Fish, 5-0, on Tuesday. The Phils look to claim a series win this afternoon in the rubber match. Let's take a look:

1. Zach Eflin, quality start machine
Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) allowed nine runs in 2⅔ innings in his MLB debut in Toronto in early June. Things unraveled quickly for him, and the outing made you wonder whether he had the stuff to get major-league hitters out.

He has the stuff to get major-league hitters out.

In seven starts since that debut, Eflin has a 2.08 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and an opponents' batting average of .207. He's struck out only 24 batters in 47⅔ innings, but walked just five. The control he showed in the minors has translated to the majors. With 1.43 walks per nine innings, Eflin has the fourth-best walk rate in the majors among starting pitchers with at least 50 innings, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Josh Tomlin and Mike Leake.

Eflin, who is 6-foot-6, has the look of a future workhorse. He's been one lately for the Phils, pitching two complete games and completing six innings in six straight starts. 

Eflin has not yet faced the Marlins in his young career.

2. Offense needs a spark
Not sure what it is about Tom Koehler that proves so troublesome for the Phillies. He throws in the low-to-mid-90s and has a decent curveball, but the rest of the league has hit him around. Koehler has faced the Phils four times this season and held them to a .149 batting average while posting a 1.64 ERA. Against all other teams, Koehler has a 5.13 ERA and .302 opponents' batting average.

The Phillies' offense has been anemic since the All-Star break, averaging fewer than 3.0 runs per game and hitting right around .200. The players who were so hot before the break — Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos (who was hurt Tuesday) — have cooled significantly. 

The only players who have hit for the Phillies since the break are Carlos Ruiz (7 for 13, two doubles) and the first basemen. Tommy Joseph is 9 for 29 (.310) with a double, two homers and four RBIs, while Ryan Howard has hit .263 with a pair of homers. 

3. Scouting Conley
The Phillies this afternoon face 26-year-old Marlins left-hander Adam Conley, who is 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in his first full big-league season. 

Conley is a lanky, 6-foot-3 lefty with a whipping arm motion that creates some deception and can't be too comfortable for a hitter to face. He can be truly dominant at times, like he was on April 29 when he no-hit the Brewers over 7⅔ innings. 

Conley has been especially effective over the last month, going 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA in seven starts and allowing more than two earned runs just once.

The Phillies faced him on May 16 at Citizens Bank Park and scored one run on eight hits in six innings. 

Conley is a three-pitch pitcher: fastball, slider, changeup. He throws his 92 to 94 mph heater 66 percent of the time. The changeup is such an effective pitch for him because of the aforementioned whip-like delivery. It's hard for a hitter to diagnose the change in speeds when he has wiry arms and legs coming at him.

Conley has reverse platoon splits: Lefties have hit .287 against him while righties have hit just .221.

4. The lineups
The Phillies are going with an unconventional lineup Wednesday. Cesar Hernandez gets his first start of the season at shortstop. Taylor Featherston makes his first start at second base after striking out as a pinch-hitter in his Phillies debut Tuesday. And seldom-used outfielders Tyler Goeddel and Jimmy Paredes are in the corners.

1. Cesar Hernandez, SS
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. Taylor Featherston, 2B
8. Jimmy Paredes, RF
9. Zach Eflin, P

And for the Marlins:

1. J.T. Realmuto, C
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Marcell Ozuna, CF
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Miguel Rojas, 2B
8. Don Kelly, 1B
9. Adam Conley, P

5. This and that
• This is the 13th game between the Phillies and Marlins this season. They've split the first 12. It's been a competitive head-to-head matchup between these teams the last three years, with the Phillies going 26-24 against the Fish since 2014.

• The Phillies are 10 games under .500. They haven't been 11 games under since June 28. They're on pace to finish 73-89, which would be a 10-win upgrade over last year.