CLEARWATER, Fla. – America finally gets to see Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez pitch some competitive baseball Saturday.
OK, maybe all of America isn’t interested in what the mysterious Cuban import has to offer, but those with an interest in the Phillies certainly are.
Gonzalez defected from Cuba last year and signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies in August. He is scheduled to pitch two innings against the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. The Yankees will have their own unveiling in the game as Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka is expected to get his first work of the spring.
Tanaka will draw huge attention.
But Phillies officials will only have eyes for Gonzalez.
“I’m interested to see how he reacts to it,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “It won’t be the easiest situation because he’s pitching against the Yankees and there’s going to be a lot of fanfare, but it will be a good test for him.”
Here’s what we know about Gonzalez so far. He is 27 years old. He pitched internationally for Cuba. He had bone chips surgically removed from his elbow in January 2012. He pitched sparingly the last two seasons because of the elbow problem and a suspension that resulted from a failed attempt to defect.
The Phillies originally agreed on a $48 million contract with Gonzalez last summer, but that was scaled back to $12 million when concerns were raised with the pitcher's physical exam. Gonzalez’s health remained an issue when he did not pitch an inning during the Florida Instructional League last fall. Team officials say they wanted to build up the 6-foot-3 right-hander’s strength and get him familiar with the club's conditioning program.
Concerns about Gonzalez's health have quietly lingered in this spring training camp simply because he was billed as a power arm and hasn’t looked like one in workouts.
On Friday, Amaro indicated for the first time that there are reasons team officials are watching Gonzalez’s health.
“He’s been fine,” Amaro said. “I think there’s been times when he’s been a little tight, but other than that he’s been fine.”
Amaro said Gonzalez had felt tightness in his shoulder and elbow.
“All the stretching we do is something he’s never done in his career,” Amaro said. “That’s part of what we were doing with him in Clearwater in the fall and winter. His body is getting used to our routine.”
Amaro was asked if he was alarmed by the condition of Gonzalez’s arm after the pitcher signed and got into the Phillies program.
“I don’t want to get into that stuff,” he said.
On the day the signing was announced, Amaro said he hoped Gonzalez would be in the team’s starting rotation in 2014. Since then, however, it seems as if expectations in Gonzalez have ebbed.
“I’m still hopeful that he’s going to be in our rotation,” Amaro said.
Could that happen in April?
“I don’t know,” Amaro said. “I don’t know. We’ll have to see. We haven’t seen him get on the mound yet.
“I think we still have high expectations of him. We just have to be patient. We have to remember that the guy hasn’t pitched competitively in a long time.”
The Phillies have three minor-league options on Gonzalez. He could very well open the season in the minors as he builds innings and experience.
“A lot of it depends on how he’s throwing by the end of the spring,” Amaro said. “We can do whatever we want with him, but we’re not going to put him in the big leagues unless we think he’s going to be able to contribute.”
Amaro said he “feels good about the signing” of Gonzalez, but admits there is risk.
“Every time we sign a guy, particularly from Cuba, or signing a draft pick, or signing a free agent, they’re all risks,” he said.
“The only expectation we had was we signed a guy with a very good arm, somebody we felt could help us in 2014 and beyond. We're just exuding patience.”