One day early this season, after Miguel Gonzalez had one of his then-typical 7+ inning, 2-run starts, I texted a friend. "Miguel Gonzalez is turning into one of my favorite Orioles of all time." It was true then, and it's true now. I love Gonzo. I love his story and the fact that he worked his way back from being completely out of American baseball. I love the way he pitches smart and finds a way to be effective without lighting up the radar gun. I love his calm demeanor on the mound and how humble he seems off of it.
Lately, though, something has been off. Gonzalez exited his June 11th start with a groin injury that landed him on the 15-day DL, and since his return on June 25th he has been awful. The difference has been night and day: before the injury he had a 3.33 ERA in 12 starts, averaging over six innings per start. Since then? A 6.48 ERA, totalling only 58 innings in eleven starts. This run of poor pitching culminated with his performance against Minnesota last night, when he allowed seven runs over five innings.
It's not clear whether the groin injury is still bothering Gonzalez, or whether it's simply just poor pitching. Regardless, the Orioles aren't in a position where they can withstand starts like last night every fifth day, and it's time for them to do something about it. Unfortunately there's a big problem here: what can the O's even do? Last year when Ubaldo Jimenez was ineffective they simply replaced him in the rotation with Kevin Gausman. That was a pretty easy decision to make because we know what Gausman is capable of. But who could replace Gonzalez?
Tyler Wilson would be the perfect candidate, but he's currently sidelined with an oblique injury. Mike Wright is still working his way back from a calf strain. The only real option already on the 25-man roster is T.J. MacFarland, and I don't see the O's replacing Gonzalez after a seven-run start with a guy who gave up six runs in the same game.
One option who hasn't yet made it to the big club is Chris Jones. The lefthander has quietly been having an excellent season in Norfolk. After starting the year with eight appearances out of the bullpen he's made 19 straight starts, and he currently has a 2.84 ERA (his ERA was 2.77 when he was converted to a starter, so no difference there). He's cut down on his walks dramatically this season, posting a 1.8 BB/9 that's almost a full walk better than his career best. That ERA isn't smoke and mirrors, either: opponents have a .312 BABIP against Jones this year. Past Jones, the Orioles would really be reaching for a potential starter with the likes of Dana Eveland (LOL) and Steve Johnson, who had a nice run of starts in 2012 but has done nothing since. It would be nice to have that triple-A ERA leader right now, wouldn't it?
My vote is to skip a Gonzalez start and give Jones a shot. If he pitches well he can stick around. If he gets absolutely shelled, Gonzalez can slide back into the rotation for his next start, and the O's will just have to hope he figures it out. If Gonzo continues to struggle Wright may be available in a couple weeks once he's back from the calf injury. But for now, something needs to be done.
Gonzalez has been solid for the Orioles and personal favorite of mine. Just like Ubaldo last season, removing him from the rotation doesn't mean he won't be back in the mix for 2016. Right now, however, time is running out on the Orioles. They simply can't afford to wait around for Gonzalez to return to form.