Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez took two abrupt trips to the minor leagues this season -- both in the past two months -- in stride. He knew he wasn't being sent down because of his performance, but because the team needed his roster spot.
Gonzalez knew he would be back both times, and he knew the only reason he was sent down was because he had minor-league options. But it still stung.
“It's got to be tough for a lot of guys,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of guys can tell you that, as well. You've just got to be mentally strong, and when they call you back up, be ready."
And in three starts since returning from his last trip to the minors, Gonzalez has a 1.21 ERA, including his first career shutout Wednesday in the Orioles’ 6-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Camden Yards.
Gonzalez held the Reds to just four hits, recording a season-high eight strikeouts and throwing a career-high 117 pitches.
Asked if Wednesday’s game was the best of his career, Gonzalez said: "Sure, we'll call it the best.”
Gonzalez also threw a complete game in 2007 for Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League, but that was before Tommy John surgery cost him one season and a leg injury ended another.
Gonzalez’s performance Wednesday was the Orioles’ second nine-inning complete game -- Chris Tillman also threw a shutout May 16 at the Kansas City Royals -- but it was arguably the best performance by an Orioles starting pitcher this season.
Early contact from an aggressive Reds lineup helped, but Gonzalez had all of his pitches working.
“He’s done such a good job with everything,” catcher Caleb Joseph said. “He’s been such a good kind of anchor for us since he came back, and we really needed it, and he’s done a good job. …
"He had everything. He has all four [pitches]. He can sink the ball, he can cut it, he can spin it, and he’s got a good split. And when he has pinpoint control, he can do some damage. He had it tonight, and he had all four of them working.”
Gonzalez (8-7) now has allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight of his last nine starts. In that span, he has a 4-2 record, a 2.00 ERA and eight quality starts. He also has recorded four consecutive quality starts and has gone eight innings or longer in three of his last nine major league starts.
In between those nine starts were Gonzalez’s two trips to the minors. One was right before the All-Star break, partially to add another hitter in catcher Steve Clevenger leading into the break, but also to get Gonzalez work over the break.
Gonzalez continued to pitch well when he returned, but he was optioned again Aug. 9 to make room for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to be activated from the disabled list. He knew he was just a victim of a numbers crunch, so it was business as usual.
“When I got sent down, I was myself,” Gonzalez said. “I wasn’t doing anything crazy or anything. I went out there and did what I had to do and worked to get better and came back up with a positive mentality."
Showalter said: “I told him at the time, there’s going to come a time here shortly where this is not an option for you, no pun intended, but it was what’s best for our club at that point. And where we were in different parts of the season, things we had to do to make other things … and we felt like make him better in September, and hopefully October.”
Asked what has been the difference on the mound, Gonzalez answers quickly -- “Confidence and trusting my stuff” -- which isn’t something you hear often from a player who was sent to the minors twice in the past two months.
“It's so easy to say now, after the fact, but a guy like Miggy ... there's a real trust there,” Showalter said. “He knows we like him and knows we're going to try to keep him in the best position to do good things for our team and do good things for his career and continue to support his family.”
And with the postseason on the horizon, Gonzalez has put himself in the conversation for a rotation spot in the playoffs. The Orioles’ magic number to clinch the American League East is 16, and they have a 9 1/2-game lead over the New York Yankees.