By Cat Garcia
Perhaps we have some answers to the mysterious question that has loomed since mid-May: What happened to the reinvented Miguel Gonzalez the White Sox saw just last season?
Gonzalez started off the 2017 season with a 3.18 ERA in six starts. But that quickly changed, as Gonzalez’s ERA spiked to 7.35 from May 12th to his last start on June 14th. Pretty indicative that something was up.
“I was not finding anything at that point,” Gonzalez said after his outing on Wednesday against the Orioles. “I felt like my four-seam was cutting. The ball wasn’t doing what I wanted to. I felt like my slot was a little lower than usual. It’s something I have to fix and then we’ll be OK.”
Well, there was something up. In correspondence to James Shields’ reinstatement from the DL on Sunday, the White Sox announced that Gonzalez would be moved to the 10-day DL retroactive to June 15th with A/C joint inflammation. According to reports, Gonzalez has been pitching though soreness for “about a month”, which directly correlates with his seasons massive derailment.
If Gonzalez was in fact pitching through soreness as he claims, that would certainly compromise his mechanics leading to the poor command we’ve seen from him this season. Gonzalez has already let up 13 home runs this season. He only allowed 11 during all of 2016. Gonzalez is also striking out just 5.3 batters per nine, down from 6.3 last season. His walk rate has climbed a bit too, going from 2.3 last season to 3.0 in 2017.
“When you’re not right, the ball doesn’t do what you want it to do,” Gonzalez said Sunday after the DL announcement. “You’re changing your slot. You’re not where you need to be and it just makes it that much harder to put the ball where you want it. Command, it’s very important, especially for starters.”
Instead of hitting the panic button and assuming that Gonzalez’s success last season was just a flash in the pan, we now have a legitimate reason to believe that once Gonzalez is able to recover from his shoulder inflammation that perhaps he can regain some of the dominance that the White Sox saw in 2016.
To say Gonzalez surprised the White Sox with his success last season is accurate, though it’s not as if he pulled off a Jake Arrieta-esque season that is likely unrepeatable. The success that Gonzalez saw was built on a strong foundation that the Orioles have struggled to give many of their pitchers (such as Arrieta, who clearly saw a bounty of success upon arrival in Chicago). Gonzalez’s success on the South side didn’t merit him any higher than a solid fourth spot in the rotation, which isn’t much to ask of a 33-year-old starter who has never thrown over 171 innings per season in his career. Perhaps Gonzalez was just able to reach his full potential at this stage of his career in Chicago.
And it wasn’t all perfect, Gonzalez missed time in the second half of the season with a groin strain and has been known to be a bit of a red flag in the injury department. Thankfully, with the exception of this season, the White Sox are good at keeping their pitchers in good health, which is why many veteran starters and reclamation projects see so much success on the South side.
While Gonzalez’s injury may lead some folks to breath a small sigh of relief in the sense that there isn’t another largely underlying mechanical issue blooming, it does now lead to concern that the 33-year-old is dealing with what could become a looming injury that’s leading to some worry for the future. Not to mention that the trade deadline is just over a month away, and Gonzalez may have likely been one of the top pitchers on the White Sox’s trading block.
“It’s more a precautionary tale for us. We anticipate it’s going to be a short-lived situation,” Sox skipper Rick Renteria said before Sunday’s game in Toronto.
So perhaps it is just a small blip on the radar that is responsible for a bigger issue. The White Sox are well aware of how to handle injury prone pitchers, and stay proactive when it comes to injury prevention. Hopefully, this is the route Gonzalez will take. Gonzalez said he received a cortisone shot on Sunday and was able to throw the ball 60-feet pain-free, a good sign for his trajectory.
Left-hander David Holmberg will take the mound on Tuesday against the Twins to replace Gonzalez. According to Renteria, Carlos Rodon will make at least one more rehab start before he potentially makes his season debut. So perhaps everything is being timed perfectly, and not all is as drastic as it may seem on the South side.