Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez probably would have preferred that his first outing in the Majors had gone a little bit better. But here he is, pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies, one of the most intriguing and interesting players to watch over the final month of the 2014 season.
Gonzalez entered Wednesday's 7-4 loss to the Braves with runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth inning and allowed the go-ahead run to score. He then allowed two more runs in the sixth and, in all, gave up two runs on three hits with two walks and one strikeout while recording three outs. His fastball was clocked in the mid-to-upper 90s, reaching 96, but it seemed pretty clear that nerves were a factor in his Major League debut.
"He looked good today, he was just rushing a little bit -- you know, first outing, a little bit nervous and jumpy," Phillies catcher Wil Nieves said. "But he made some good pitches when he stayed back. That's how he pitched [in the Minors]. I told him, 'Don't worry, first outing, relax next time and just do what you do.'" (quote per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki)
Manager Ryne Sandberg was also impressed (quote per Philadelphia Daily News' Ryan Lawrence).
"He's come a long way since spring training," said Sandberg after the game. "The ball had some zip to it coming out. Good, fluid arm action."
Frankly, people probably shouldn't focus on the actual results at the moment. Instead, look at the fastball velocity, the sharpness of his breaking pitches, and how he handles himself on the mound. He's going to battle nerves as he gets his feet wet, so any "shakiness" displayed this month should be recognized with that in mind.
That he is even on a Major League mound right now is incredible. Odds did not favor such a scenario at the start of the season, when he got off to a slow start in spring training and complained of a dead arm. He battled shoulder tendinitis and spent the first part of the season on the disabled list, all of which shrouded Gonzalez in a fog of mystery.
"Who is this Cuban pitcher we have? Will we ever see him pitch? Did the Phils just flush $12 million down the toilet? DOES THIS MAN EVEN EXIST!!!"
After making three rather disastrous starts at Single-A Clearwater in May, they moved him to the bullpen, where he has flourished. Gonzalez suddenly rediscovered the velocity on a fastball that had been the low-90s and was now suddenly touching 95-97 mph at times.
In 31 games this year in the minors, Gonzalez posted a 3.11 ERA and struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings, while walking 5.1 per nine. His WHIP of 1.424 was high, but the 54 strikeouts in 46.1 innings was something to get excited about. He was especially impressive in Triple-A, where he posted a 1.62 ERA in 16.2 innings, with 19 strikeouts and 10 walks.
The Phils reportedly signed him to a six-year, $48 million contract last summer, but were scared by the results of his physical and instead agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal. Just a few months ago, it seemed like even that reduced contract would be a boondoggle.
The Phillies have said in recent days they still hope Gonzalez can become a starter. But even if he's an effective reliever, $4 million a year for a quality bullpen arm isn't a bad price.
Barring an injury, Gonzalez will enter Spring Training next year with a legitimate chance to either join a wide-open starting rotation, or a bullpen that has a slew of other, talented young arms already in it.
But on Wednesday, everyone got their first look at the Phils' Cuban import. Hopefully, he's just the first of numerous young Cuban stars will soon populate the team's 40-man roster.