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Alonzo Gonzalez Found Relief in the Bullpen

Young pitcher found his identity by pitching out of the bullpen

Alonzo Gonzalez Found Relief in the Bullpen

December 24, 2014

Alonzo Gonzalez

Alonzo Gonzalez pitched in both Vancouver and Lansing in 2013.

Finding your own identity as a professional baseball player can be tough, but it’s a critical aspect for continued success at higher levels. For Lansing Lugnuts left-handed pitcher Alonzo Gonzalez 2014 was just that, a year where he found his identity.

The southpaw’s new identity began with the Vancouver Canadians in 2013 after a slow start in Lansing saw the young pitcher finish up his year in the Northwest League. While going down wasn’t his plan it became a blessing in disguise, as the C’s coaching staff thought it would be a good idea for Gonzalez to become a reliever.

The move worked out well, as Gonzalez struck out 30 batters in his 37 Northwest League innings while maintaining a 1.135 WHIP. Entering 2014 the question was whether or not Gonzalez could rebound in Lansing in his new role.

Gonzalez had a few bumps throughout his first full season relieving, but on the whole he was satisfied with his season, and why not? He led all Lugnuts relievers in strikeouts (90) and led all full season Lugnuts with a 10.2 K/9 ratio, while maintaining a 1.475 WHIP.

“I like how I finished up,” stated Gonzalez. “I started off the year pretty good then I had a rough month where it didn’t seem like I was making pitches. Everything I threw out there was getting hit really hard and that was frustrating, but by the end I was really happy. I felt good in August. I think I’m developing as a pitcher and I couldn’t be happier.”

A huge improvement from his 2013 campaign that saw Gonzalez finish his time in Lansing with just 48 strikeouts in the same amount of innings. The 2014 Gonzalez improved his K/9 ratio by nearly five points, standing at just 5.4 in 2013. The left-hander also did a better job keeping runners off the base paths by allowing 22 fewer hits and 12 fewer walks between the two seasons. The transition to the bullpen has been an excellent fit for Gonzalez and he knows it.

“Relieving is definitely different than starting,” stated Gonzalez. “Starters have their own routines and a set schedule, as a reliever it’s just whenever you throw. There’s really no set date, but I like it. I like the fact that I usually come in at important parts of the game. I strive off the big moment opportunities. It really pumps me up as a competitor.”

The young prospect feels his numbers are getting better with the development of his pitches. Since being drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB draft out of Glendale Community College, Gonzalez admits he had a lot of growing to still do as a pitcher in professional baseball and he’s happy with the current results.

“I think my pitches have developed a lot,” said Gonzalez. “Coming out of a junior college I didn’t throw too hard. I was a tall guy that was left-handed. I think I was drafted more on projection. I didn’t have a breaking ball when I was drafted, but since beginning pro ball my velocity has gone up every single year. My 2014 velocity was higher than it’s ever been. My changeup is really good and I also have a slider now that I’m getting a lot of swing and misses with.

“Developing that off-speed pitch has really helped me in the second half of the season,” he added. “I’m doing a good job keeping hitters off-balanced and I’m tough on left-handers. I feel all my pitches have improved a lot since I was drafted.”

Another area that stands out was working with Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman for a second season. Gonzalez is very thankful for everything the former major leaguer has done for him and every other pitcher on the team.

“I really like working with Vince. He’s a guy you would have to spend a couple years with to fully appreciate what he does,” Gonzalez said, smiling. “With Vince it’s not just what he does for you personally, but for the younger guys as well. He’s the perfect pitching coach for a guy who is serious about developing into a major league pitcher because he drops a lot of pearls. “

“Vince has been involved in the game for 30 years and its great talking to him and picking his brain,” he added. “The patience he has with the younger guys being low-A is outstanding. I think I can honestly say I have never had a pitching coach that’s had a bigger influence on me as a person and a baseball player. I tell Vince thanks all the time and he thinks I’m just BSing him, but I’m really appreciative of what he has done for me. The guy really knows what he is doing. He has got this development thing down.”

Happy with the improvements he has seen from Gonzalez in 2014 Vince Horsman discusses what has made Gonzalez a more effective pitcher in the Lugnuts bullpen and what he needs to do to be even better in the future.

“Alonzo’s pitches have gotten a lot better from last year to this year,” stated Horsman. “He’s throwing a lot harder. His slider is sharper. It’s just a matter of being more consistent. Right now he’s throwing two or three good outings in a row and then he has a bad one. It’s the same mistakes where he pulls out of his glove side and his pitches are up in the zone, but when he keeps his pitches low he does a really good job. I think once Alonzo figures out how to be more consistent he’ll be a really good pitcher.”

Heading home to Santa Monica, California for the off-season, Gonzalez admits his off-season doesn’t have a lot of down time, as he stays focused on getting his body in the best shape possible for the following season.

“In the off-season I do a lot of agility before I get into any kind of weight lifting,” explained Gonzalez. “I’m usually trying to improve on my footwork. I know they say pitchers are not athletes, but I try to get my athleticism up. I also do a lot of arm, shoulder, and back care. I work on my core a lot especially the lower half. I also try to get a lot of chest exercise in just standard stuff. I do a lot of stretching, so I can stay in shape and have a full healthy off-season. I don’t want my routine detoured by any kind of injuries or by pulling a muscle.”

Hopefully Gonzalez can appreciate the improvements he made in 2014, as he is preparing for another great season.