After the Orioles sent George Sherrill to the Dodgers for Josh Bell and Steve Johnson, the big question was “who becomes the Orioles closer?” The easy move for the club was to transition Jim Johnson, the Birds set up man, to close out ball games. Unfortunately, that transition wasn’t as easy as everyone anticipated. Johnson struggled in the role, he pitched to a 10.61 ERA with just three saves in September.
During the offseason the Orioles took care of the closer dilemma before pitchers and catchers reported, even before Christmas, by signing Mike Gonzalez from the Atlanta Braves to a 2 year, $12 million deal.
Gonzalez has a 2.57 career earned run average and 54 saves in his seven years in the bigs. Prior to spending time in Atlanta, he pitched four years with the Pittsburgh Pirates where he posted a 2.37 ERA and 28 saves.
Along the way, Gonzalez has been sidelined with injuries and undergone Tommy John Surgery. In 2006 Gonzalez had converted all of his 24 save opportunities, but was forced to end his season early due to an elbow injury. Then in 2007 he was placed on the Braves disabled list with a left elbow strain, which led to his eventual surgery. Gonzalez returned on June 18, 2008 and pitched a perfect 9th inning against the Texas Rangers. In 2009 Gonzalez made a success full season return baseball in which he appeared in 80 games pitching 74.1 innings.
I had a chance to listen to Gonzalez speak at Orioles Fan Fest and his personality seems to be a perfect fit here in Baltimore. He commended the Orioles young talent and spoke about his desire to get to know his team mates and most importantly to win.
In his spring debut, Gonzalez allowed a run and walked one against his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. “My arm felt great, and I got out of it healthy; that’s all you can ask for,” Gonzalez told the Baltimore Sun.
How do you think Mike Gonzalez will fare in his first year as the Orioles closer?