DENVER — Michael Gonzalez was a member of the Washington Nationals for just more than two weeks when he got Ross Detwiler’s ear in the bullpen. Detwiler had made four appearances out of the bullpen after Chien-Ming Wang had bumped him from the rotation, and he’d gotten mixed results.
So in the midst of a tough interleague stretch against American League East teams that Gonzalez, a former Oriole, was intimately familiar with, the two lefties began to chat.
Gonzalez had seen enough out of Detwiler to know “no one wants to be up there against him.” And yet he’d watched as the 26-year-old didn’t always go right after hitters with stuff he thought was “obviously so good.” In his those four relief appearances, Detwiler had walked as many batters as he’d given up hits to (five).
It was an immediate impact for a player who has otherwise gone largely unnoticed on a stacked pitching staff. Gonzalez was a late addition to the Nationals’ relief corps, one he feels on stuff alone is “top two in the major leagues.” He didn’t sign with the team until May 8 and he didn’t pitch for an affiliate until June 1. By June 3, with an out in his contract, he was added to the major league roster.
His numbers (zero earned runs, five hits, three walks, five strikeouts, four of 13 inherited runners scored) are decent. But with Brad Lidge since released, Gonzalez’s role becomes something more. In a bullpen full of relative youth, Gonzalez has become the elder statesman and the veteran voice. That’s fine with him.
“I know the experience is one of the reasons why they signed me,” said Gonzalez, who is coming off two injury-plagued and ineffective years with Baltimore and a fall playoff run with Texas. “But it’s one of those things where the guys themselves have to be receptive. I’m all for it, to share what I’ve learned over the years.”
For whatever Gonzalez brings as a reliever, which the Nationals have been pleased with, he’s known as one of the best teammates in baseball. In Baltimore, he bought several rookies suits as one of his first acts. In Atlanta, he and Rafael Soriano, now the Yankees’ closer, were so close Soriano named Gonzalez the godfather of his son. While they booed him on the mound in Baltimore, in the clubhouse he still has plenty of fans.
Gonzalez is approaching his one-month anniversary with the Nationals as they head toward the All-Star break.
“He’s been a good addition,” manager Davey Johnson said. “It’s nice to have veteran presence around.”
NOTES: One day after calling out his team’s offensive approach, Johnson vehemently defended hitting coach Rick Eckstein.
“It’s an individual responsibility,” Johnson said of the team’s offensive issues. “For a hitting coach to take blame is a cop-out. It’s passing the buck. We all feel responsible.”