Gonzalez Says He Is Ready To Close For O's

December 18, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Mike Gonzalez expects to be the Orioles' full-time closer in 2010, but he's taking the same approach he has had his entire career.

He's prepared to fight for it.

"Every year is a competition, man, as far as I can remember. Even back in Little League baseball, everything was a competition," said Gonzalez, who was a 30th-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997.

"If there is no competition, there's no real reward to it. I have never had anything given to me, and I don't expect it will be given to me now. I will go out there, do what I do and I don't think there will be any question" about his role.

Gonzalez, 31, agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract Wednesday with the Orioles that could be worth as much as $16 million if he achieves all bonuses and escalator clauses. The deal is pending a physical, which he expects to take today in Baltimore.

The 6-foot-2 left-hander was just 10-for-17 in save chances for the Atlanta Braves last year but was 44-for-49 in his previous four seasons. He posted a 2.42 ERA in 80 appearances in 2009, his second season back from Tommy John ligament-reconstruction surgery.

In all likelihood, Gonzalez will take the closing reins from Jim Johnson, who excelled as a setup man for the Orioles in 2008 and 2009 but struggled when thrust into the closer's role last year after George Sherrill was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Before the Gonzalez acquisition, Johnson, who was 10-for-16 in save opportunities in 2009, was penciled in as the club's 2010 closer, though fellow right-handers Kam Mickolio and Koji Uehara also were possibilities.

"If it's a move that makes our team better, then I'm happy. It's fine by me," said Johnson, who learned of the Gonzalez deal from a reporter Wednesday afternoon. "As for him being the closer or having the chance to be the closer, I didn't really do a whole lot with the opportunities that I got.

"The only thing that I can do is if they want to try it out again in spring training, I have to give them more of a reason to have the opportunity [to close] going forward."

Gonzalez, who has spent his entire seven-season big league career in the National League, will be joining a team on which he knows only a few players. He was a teammate of Ty Wigginton's in Pittsburgh and played in the Arizona Fall League years ago with Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Roberts.

But he said he has heard good things about manager Dave Trembley and "I definitely see an upside in the team. ... That young offense, those guys can hit."

He added that he's not intimidated by playing in the American League East. In fact, he said it's one of the reasons he wanted to come to Baltimore.

"Everyone calls the AL East 'The Beast.' It's the best division in baseball," Gonzalez said. "And to have an opportunity to go there and get it done against those horses, I definitely take it as a challenge. I have always been a competitive man, and I feel really good about that challenge."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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