Miguel Gonzalez pitches first career shutout in Orioles' 6-0 win over Reds

In complete game, right-hander strikes out eight batters and allows four hits

September 03, 2014|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

From a logistical standpoint, Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez hasn't had a particularly stable season. He has dealt with one stint on the disabled list, pitched out of the bullpen once and twice was demoted to the minor leagues as part of the club's continual roster tweaks.

If Gonzalez keeps pitching like he did Wednesday in a 6-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, though, he'll ultimately end up with just one destination next month: The postseason. That's his ultimate goal after an elevator of a season.

“It's got to be tough for a lot of guys [to be moved around]. A lot of guys can tell you that,” said Gonzalez, who was sent to the minors in July and August to get extra work while allowing the Orioles to add some depth. “You've just got to be mentally strong, and when they call you back up, be ready.”

The 30-year-old right-hander wasn't just prepared Wednesday, he was utterly dominant. He pounded the strike zone with low-90s fastballs in what was the best outing of his career.

“Sure, we'll call it the best,” the soft-spoken Gonzalez said with a smile.

He didn't give up a hit until the fifth inning — a one-out single to left field by Cincinnati's Ryan Ludwick — on his way to the first complete game and first shutout in the major leagues. The only other complete game of his professional career was in 2007 in the Double-A Texas League.

“It's an awesome feeling. Overall, we played a great game,” Gonzalez said. “Put some runs [up] early. That helps.”

Gonzalez threw a career-high 117 pitches, including an impressive 83 strikes, and he had a season-high eight strikeouts. He had 96 pitches going into the ninth, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Dave Wallace never considered using a reliever to start the inning.

“That was pretty easy,” Showalter said. “He was fine. Dave talks to him every inning. He's one of our best conditioned guys. He's got plenty of innings and pitches available. He's in a spot where he's got a lot of bullets left.”

It was the 10th time the Orioles held their opponent scoreless this season, and the second time a starting pitcher went the distance in a shutout -- Chris Tillman did it May 16 at the Kansas City Royals. Buoyed by an offense that hit three home runs, Gonzalez was in control from the beginning. He ended up allowing just four hits and one walk.

“Miggy is such a team guy, he's such a professional, and that was a professional outing,” Showalter said. “A lot of late life to the fastball, pitched up when he needed to, split was there, breaking ball. He had a lot of things working.”

When Gonzalez took the mound in the ninth, a portion of the announced 20,246 at Camden Yards recognized the situation and rose to its feet. The crowd remained standing as he recorded the final out on a groundout. Gonzalez also received the traditional pie-in-the-face from outfielder Adam Jones after his superb performance.

With 24 games to play in 2014, the first-place Orioles (81-57) now have guaranteed that they won't have a losing record for the third consecutive year after finishing under .500 for 14 straight seasons. A win Thursday not only would give them a sweep of the Reds (66-73), but it also would secure the Orioles' third straight winning campaign. On Wednesday, they moved to a season-high 24 games over .500 and maintained their 9 1/2-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees. Their magic number for clinching the American League East — the combination of wins needed and losses by their closest rival — dropped to 16.

Gonzalez (8-7, 3.38 ERA) is certainly doing his part. He has allowed just four runs in his past four outings, all quality starts, over a span of 28 1/3 innings (1.27 ERA). He has a 2.15 ERA in seven games since the All-Star break, when he was first demoted to the minors so the Orioles could temporarily add a hitter to their bench.

“We all understand it wasn't his idea. If it was up to him, he wouldn't [have chosen to leave],” Showalter said. “But it was what's best for our club at that point. And where we were in different parts of the season, things we had to do … we felt like [to] make him better in September, and hopefully October.”

Despite his transient year, Gonzalez is making a major push to be in the postseason rotation, even if it is truncated to three starters. Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen likely will be the top two, but Gonzalez and Bud Norris (12-8, 3.83 ERA) give Showalter two solid options from whom to choose if he decides not to go with four starters.

Showalter, of course, won't entertain playoff notions in early September. And Gonzalez shrugged off the thought of jockeying for a spot in the postseason.

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