MILWAUKEE — The game of baseball offers quite a few moments that are bizarre and sometimes just plain unlucky.
Michael Gonzalez’s relief pitching debut with the Brewers on April 3 certainly qualified as both. After Gonzalez walked the leadoff hitter, a perfect bunt single followed putting two on with nobody out. Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez followed with a broken bat single that should have been at least one out, but the sharp end of the bat went flying right at Brewers first baseman Alex Gonzalez.
With that Michael Gonzalez’s day was done. All three runs eventually scored and skyrocketed his ERA. A few days later, Gonzalez was pitching when a passed ball went off the umpire’s mask and bounced so far up the first base line that two runs scored.
But since his few rough outings to start the season, Gonzalez has been throwing the ball much better. He recently had a run of five games in which he didn’t allow a run or an inherited runner to score and the life on his pitches looked drastically different than early in the season, though his ERA still sits at 4.32.
“Spring training, I think he was just trying to get a feel for it, trying to get all of his pitches in,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We didn’t see much velocity in spring training. Then at the beginning of the season, not much was there. Then all of a sudden he got velocity but along with it he got command. When he’s commanding the three pitches he has, he’s a good major league pitcher.”
For Gonzalez, nothing changed in his preparation. Admitting his experience aided his ability to bounce back from a few of the crazy outings he had early on, Gonzalez never lost confidence in his abilities knowing time was needed to settle in to his new environment.
“There’s not that pressure or that sense of what am I doing?” Gonzalez said. “I know it happens. You have to check it off. You have to have that short-term memory. I do, and I’m thankful for that. Being a closer, it was that mentality. I just keep that same mindset. Nothing really bothers me. I keep that same tone.
“The preparation has been the same since spring training, so I expect good results. Sometimes you just can’t help what results you get, but you go into the day knowing that you prepared yourself the best way possible and you should have success.”
The short-term memory served Gonzalez well when he was the closer for Pittsburgh in 2006 and again for a stretch with Atlanta in 2008 and 2009.
“It was huge,” Gonzalez said of his closing experience. “I feel like I’m still pitching today because of that mindset. It’s going all out, going for it. More than anything it’s if you fail that night, you have to be ready because you are going to be out there trying to get that save again. The quicker you forget about it, the better it is for you.”
As more of the left-handed specialist of the two left-handers the Brewers added this offseason, Gonzalez has been used against left-handers and right-handers. Contrary to his career numbers, left-handers have had success against Gonzalez thus far this season, hitting .353 in 17 at-bats. But those numbers have slowly gotten better of late, something Gonzalez anticipates continuing.
For Milwaukee’s bullpen to have success, Gonzalez is going to have to get left-handers out when called upon. When the bullpen was struggling early, Gonzalez wasn’t doing that. A good chunk of the bullpen was scuffling at once but since has settled in and has pitched well.
“You see the talent out there,” Gonzalez said of the bullpen. “There’s going to be struggles and we happened to all get them right at the beginning. But we know the talent and the stuff is there with the guys. We’ve gotten to know our roles a bit more and we’re a little bit more comfortable with each other. Now it’s go out there and have fun.”