When Michael Gonzalez signed a two-year, $12 million deal before the 2010 season, he envisioned entering the game in the ninth inning and closing out an Orioles' victory against a tough divisional foe.
Gonzalez did that in the Orioles' victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night, but not under the circumstances that he or anybody else expected. The Orioles had a seven-run lead and manager Buck Showalter originally planned to bring back Koji Uehara for a second inning of work, but Nick Markakis' two-run double in the bottom of the eighth convinced him to go to Gonzalez.
That is essentially what it has come to for the struggling left-hander who is being used mostly in a mop-up role.
"To me, right now, it is what it is," said Gonzalez who is 0-1 with a 6.98 ERA and has allowed 24 hits, including six homers, and nine walks in 19 1/3 innings. "I just need to go out there and get innings in regardless of where they are at. I need to go out there and get some consistency, and obviously the more you are out there, the more comfortable you become. Right now, it's just about getting out there."
Entering Saturday, Gonzalez has appeared in just two of the Orioles' past 12 games and five of their past 20. Out of those five games, he entered two of them with the Orioles leading by seven runs. He entered the other three with the Orioles facing deficits of three, four and eight runs, respectively.
"He's already been in some [high-leverage situations], and he has this year. And I feel pretty confident that he will again," Showalter said. "I hope so for his sake. I know it's frustrating for him. It's frustrating for us. Everybody likes Gonzo — good teammate, good guy. He really wants to make a contribution. We hope that he's an asset to winning games. He'll get some opportunities."
Gonzalez has pitched consecutive scoreless innings, but Friday was a struggle, as he loaded the bases on two walks and an error by third baseman Mark Reynolds. However, he stranded them by striking out pinch hitter Sean Rodriguez, ending the 30-pitch inning.
"It's kind of hard to do when you get eight, nine days off, but hey, that's the situation it is right now," Gonzalez said. "It's a hole you have to dig out of. It's one of those things where at the end of the day, you have to have confidence in your stuff. I haven't been doing this the last six years and been unsuccessful. I've been good at what I've done. Every time I have negative thoughts or any negative situations come about, I just remember the positive things that I've done. I've done way more positives than negatives."
Hardy leading off again
Showalter still hasn't anointed J.J. Hardy as his permanent leadoff man until Brian Roberts returns from the disabled list, but he did give the shortstop a second consecutive start in that spot. It wasn't a hard decision, as Hardy had led off the Orioles' half of the first inning Tuesday and Friday with home runs, both on the second pitches of the bottom of the inning. Those were the only times that he has hit leadoff in his career before Saturday.
"Against [Tampa Bay starter David Price], sometimes it doesn't matter. We're going to try to make it matter, but we'll see," Showalter said. "J.J. is doing well, he is swinging the bat well. He feels good about himself, he seems to be fine with it mentally. There's something about that spot and [the three and four spots] for some reason. You always have to check in where they are mentally about it, but J.J. is in a pretty good place right now."
Hardy reached base in all five of his plate appearances Friday. Entering tonight, he had reached base safely in 17 of his 18 games since May 21, batting .350 (21-for-60) with three doubles, four homers, 13 runs scored and nine RBIs during that stretch.
"The first at-bat is just different. You're running out there, you don't know if the pitcher is going to be throwing strikes yet, you don't know if you need to take one. There are just a lot of questionable things," said Hardy about hitting leadoff. "But after that first at-bat, your next one is just like any other at-bat no matter where you hit in the lineup. I'm never going to say no to anything. I feel like Buck writes the lineup and I'm here to play. I'm not here to say whether I want to play there or play here."
Sign up here
The Orioles agreed to terms with four of their draft picks Saturday, the highest one being fifth-rounder Matt Taylor, a left-handed pitcher from Middle Georgia College.
Cameron Edman, a catcher out of Gonzaga who was taken in the 29th round; Zachary Fowler, a left-handed pitcher from Texas Tech who was selected in Round 34; and Jerome Pena, the 38th rounder and second baseman for Texas Christian also agreed to terms.
Four of the Orioles top 10 picks — Jason Esposito (Vanderbilt), John Ruettiger (Arizona State), Devin Jones (Mississippi State) and Phillip Wilson (Virginia) — were playing in the NCAA super regionals as of Saturday, so negotiations with those players won't start until their teams are eliminated.
Around the horn
Justin Duchscherer is scheduled to try for a second time to throw five innings in an extended spring game on Tuesday or Wednesday. Duchscherer, who hasn't pitched for the Orioles this season because of hip and back issues, was scheduled to pitch five innings last week, but he only made it to the third because of cramping. … Brandon Snyder, who was recalled Friday to take the roster spot of Derrek Lee (bereavement list), got his fourth start of the season at first base Saturday. … Jake Fox, who was out-righted to Triple-A Norfolk Friday, reported to the Tides. … Utility infielder Bill Hall, who had drawn tepid interest from the Orioles as an insurance policy for Roberts, signed Saturday with the San Francisco Giants, who lost their second baseman, Freddy Sanchez, to a dislocated shoulder Friday night.