Miguel Gonzalez was unconditionally released by the Orioles Friday evening. A fixture of the starting rotation for the past four seasons, Gonzalez struggled in Spring Training posting a 9.78 ERA after struggling through 2015 with injuries and poor performance. With diminished velocity--sitting mostly 88-89 mph on the broadcast gun the night before his release--and lingering injuries the Orioles felt that any chance Gonzalez had at regaining his form was not worth the $5 million investment it would require. Gonzalez, reportedly, is already getting interest from other teams. His time with the Orioles should not forgotten.
Most people reading this probably know Gonzalez's backstory but, it's a good one so I'll tell it anyways. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Angels in 2004, picked up by the Red Sox in the 2008 Rule 5 draft after a stellar showing in Winter League ball. His stint with the Red Sox was underwhelming going through a knee surgery in 2008 and Tommy John surgery in 2009. Eventually, in 2011, he ended up a minor league free agent in the Mexican League. Orioles scout Fred Ferreira saw him one night down on the coast of Mexico and allegedly decided to sign him after only one inning. An inning in which Gonzalez struck out the side on nine pitches.
Beginning the 2012 season, at 28, Gonzalez was pitching in AAA Norfolk for the Orioles and posted a career best 1.61 ERA in 44.2 innings. He was called up at first to come out of the bullpen, but eventually got the chance to start on July 6th, 2012 for the Orioles against the team that originally signed him, his hometown Angels. After eight seasons of toiling in the minors, Gonzalez got to pitch in front of friends and family. If the story ended there it would have been improbable enough. Of course, it did not end there.
That night was one of the best starts of Gonzalez's major league career. He pitched seven innings only allowing three hits, two walks, one run, and struck out six. Funny enough, the one run he gave up was to his now former teammate Mark Trumbo. Steve Pearce drove in all three Orioles runs that night on a three run homer and Jim Johnson got the save. Ah, 2012.
That season would bring more Gonzalez magic to the table. August 31st, 2012 in Yankee stadium he threw seven shutout innings giving up only four hits, one walk, and struck out nine. Made all the important by the fact that the Orioles were in second place in the AL East at the time and only two games back of the Yankees. Mark Reynolds hit two home runs that night to secure an Orioles victory. Ah, 2012.
Or, how about a month and half later in Yankee Stadium once again this time ALDS Game 3. Gonzalez went seven innings, giving up five hits, zero walks, one run, and eight strikeouts. He left the game with the lead only for that lead to be blown up by Jim Johnson, Brian Matusz, and their willingness to throw gutter balls to Raul Ibanez. Lets never talk about that game again.
Then there is the piece de resistance of the Miguel Gonzalez canon. September 3rd, 2014 in Camden Yards a complete game shutout against the Reds allowing only four hits, one walk, and striking out eight on 117 pitches. A masterclass 6-0 Orioles win in a great season.
I have to be inject some personal honesty here, I was pretty shocked by the Gonzalez news. Shocked then sad. Mostly bummed out. For the pretty simple reason that Gonzalez to me is the avatar of the Orioles return to success. Out of nowhere and hard to figure out. 2012 was a crazy season and Gonzalez embodied that more than most. From the Mexican League to ALDS Game 3 in Yankee stadium in less than a calendar year. I was in the stands for a random Gonzalez start one summer night with a scout friend of mine. We marveled together at his unlikely path. The one thing I remember clearly is the scout saying Gonzalez had "fives across the board." Simply good enough at everything to get the job done.
When he was at his best he had pinpoint control and a devastating split finger with a slider and curve ball to keep them honest. However, 2015 was not so kind. Injuries sapped him of his control and eventually his stuff. This Spring Training he has been a shell of his former self. Throwing in the high 80s with a loopy curve ball and a split finger that shutters more than splits. Getting rid of a pitcher like that makes sense. Saving money makes sense. But, a part of me cannot help feel a little melancholy watching the manifestation of the one of the best Orioles seasons of my life go away in such an unceremonious way. Being 26 years old means that 2012 is the first quality Orioles' season I have actual memories and not just latent memories of cheering in the stands when I was 6. I'll miss Gonzo and I hope he lands on his feet somewhere.