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Mike Gonzalez (gonzami02)

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Michael Vela Gonzalez

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Mike Gonzalez was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 30th round of the 1997 amateur draft. He split the season between the GCL Pirates (2-0, 2.48) and Augusta GreenJackets (1-1, 1.86), striking out 54 and allowing 32 hits in 48 1/3 innings. The next year, the 20-year-old southpaw went 4-2, 2.84 and struck out 72 in 50 2/3 IP for Augusta but was roughed up in seven starts for the Lynchburg Hillcats (0-3, 6.67, 53 baserunners in 28 2/3 IP. He also battled injuries that year.

In 1999, Gonzalez again split his year, solving Lynchburg (10-4, 4.02, 119 K in 112 IP) and getting promoted to Altoona (2-3, 8.10), again being smacked around after a move up. He led the California Fall League with 10 homers allowed. Injuries plagued him again the next year (a groin sprain and shoulder surgery) and he was 4-3, 4.66 for Lynchburg and 1-0, 4.50 for the GCL Pirates in limited work.

Mike continued to rehab in 2001 and went 2-2 with a 2.93 ERA for Lynchburg and 5-4, 3.71 for Altoona, duplicating his stops of two years prior. At age 24, Gonzo was (surprise) injured, hurting his left knee and again needed arthroscopic surgery. He had a 8-4, 3.80 time with Altoona and 2-0 with 1 unearned run in 13 innings on a rehab assignment with the GCL Bucs.

Gonzalez had a wild and wacky 2003. He began the year on the disabled list with back spasms and then went 0-1, 5.14 for Lynchburg and 0-0 with a save and 1.23 ERA for Altoona. In 7 games for the Nashville Sounds, he saved two and had a 4.50 ERA. In the middle of those Nashville appearances, though, Gonzalez was traded to the Boston Red Sox on July 22 with Scott Sauerbeck for Brandon Lyon and Anastacio Martinez. The Pirates said that Lyon was damaged goods, so 9 days later, Gonzalez and Freddy Sanchez were sent to Pittsburgh in return for Lyon, Martinez and Jeff Suppan. In the interim, Gonzalez had made two appearances with the Pawtucket Red Sox, saving one and allowing no runs. Overall, then, Pittsburgh had traded Sanchez for Suppan and Sauerbeck, a good move in retrospect, while Gonzalez got to spend a couple days out of the organization for the only time in the first decade of his career. Pittsburgh called Mike up shortly after reacquiring him, and he struggled in 16 appearances as a LOOGY, allowing a 7.56 ERA.

In 2004, Mike had an injury-free year and had his first full season as a reliever. It was one for the history books. He went 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA for Nashville, striking out 35 in 20 innings. That earned him a ticket to the Pirates, where he had a 3-1, 1 save, 1.25 campaign, with 55 Ks and six walks in 43 frames of work. He was picked to the 2004 Topps All-Star Rookie Team.

Gonzalez went 1-3 with three saves and a 2.70 ERA in 2005. He allowed a .152 average to lefties and had 10.44 strikeouts per 9 innings as one of the better left-handed relievers in the National League. Pittsburgh decided to make Gonzalez their closer in 2006 but brought in veteran Roberto Hernández for insurance. People claimed that you need a "closer mentality" or to be a "proven closer" to finish games, even though the vast majority of middle relievers and setup men tried in the closer role have succeeded very well. Through August 26, Gonzalez was 3-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 2006, with saves in his first 24 opportunities, setting a new Pirates record for consecutive save opportunities converted. He then was sidelined with elbow tendonitis and Salomon Torres replaced him in the closer role. After long trade discussions with the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh dealt Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge for Adam LaRoche and Jamie Romak in January of 2007.

Gonzalez began 2007 in his usual dominating form, going 2-0 with 2 saves and a 1.59 ERA in 18 games. He had his third ERA+ over 200 in 4 seasons with over 10 innings of work to raise his career mark to a phenomenal 187. Unfortunately, Gonzalez began losing velocity on his fastball, which was timed at 82 mph. He stated that he had not thrown so slowly since high school. Two MRIs found nothing wrong before a more advanced MRI was done and detected a small tear in his ulnar ligament. Gonzalez had Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of 2007 and half of 2008 as well.

Gonzalez's uncle Eric is an assistant coach at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Primary sources: 1998-2006 Baseball Almanacs, Pittsburgh Pirates unofficial email list, MLB.com

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