Even when his velocity was down and he looked extremely uncomfortable last spring, Orioles reliever Michael Gonzalez told anybody and everybody that he was healthy and he would be ready "when the lights come on" for the regular season. You know how that story ended.
Gonzalez, who was signed to a two-year, $12 million deal to serve as the Orioles' closer, blew two of his first three save opportunities before going on the disabled list for 3 1/2 months with a left shoulder strain.
"As a competitor, you say, 'Oh, it's just soreness, it doesn't feel too good, but it's going to feel better.' I definitely learned last year about talking a little bit too much, about saying, 'When the lights come on, I'll be ready,' " Gonzalez said. "The thing is for the last 10 years in my professional career, when the lights turn on, I am ready. It wasn't a big deal for me to go and say that. I don't worry about spring training just for the fact that the last eight years, I'm throwing 84 to 86 [mph] and once the game days start, I'm anywhere between 93 to 96. There wasn't any doubt in my mind. I don't want to say I regret that, but when you can do it consistently eight, nine years in a row, then why isn't it going to happen this year? That's what I was dealing with. I was fighting with that. I felt some soreness, but I didn't think it was that big of a deal."
Gonzalez returned from the disabled list and pitched to a 1.76 ERA in his first 18 appearances. Over his last 26 outings, the lefty had a 2.76 ERA. He acknowledged the strong finish gave him extra motivation for the 2011 season.
He has already thrown three bullpen sessions, and he looks like a far different pitcher than he did at this time last season.
"I'm 32 years old. I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that I feel like I'm 20 again. That's not the case," he said. "I can't tell you I feel the best shape I have in my life. I can say that I feel the best I feel for 32, man. I really busted my butt, and I really worked hard in the offseason with my shoulder. I don't know how I look from the outside, but I feel like I'm night and day. Just the release point, the way my arm is, the way I'm throwing my bullpens, I feel night and day from how I felt last year. I'm in a positive mode. I feel really good about it."
Go to mobile.baltimoresun.com to get news on your mobile device. Text BASEBALL to 70701 for Orioles text alerts.