Chi Chi Gonzalez hopes that this March is a continuation of last September when it comes to his success on the mound for the Colorado Rockies.
If his fourth appearance of spring training against Cincinnati on Tuesday was any indication, then the product of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., could well be a member of the starting rotation for the Colorado Rockies this season.
Making his third start of the spring, Chi Chi Gonzalez tossed three scoreless innings, giving up only one hit while fanning three as Colorado and the Reds battled to a 5-5 tie at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick under cloudy, cool conditions.
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Retiring the first six batters he faced, Gonzalez threw 47 pitches with 26 going for strikes. He worked out of a two on, no out situation in the third, inducing a double play grounder before getting a strikeout to end the inning.
“My focus is just to repeat the good ones, eliminate the bad outings, and repeat the good ones,” said Gonzalez, who lowered his earned run average to 6.30 this spring in four appearances with 11 hits allowed in 10 innings to go along with eight strikeouts.
“I had a great outing before,” he added about his previous Cactus League outing.
“Tempo was great. I threw some good changeups and I carried that over to this start.”
Gonzalez, who was originally selected by Texas as the 23rd overall choice in the first round of the 2013 draft, made 12 starts for the Rockies a year ago after being signed as a free agent by the organization in December 2018.
Last season the right-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 that resulted in him making no appearances for two full seasons while with the Rangers, made his debut with the Rockies on June 25 against San Francisco.
But the start to his career with the Rockies was less than stellar.
The native of Delray Beach, Fla., would gain the dubious distinction of becoming the first pitcher in franchise history to have the team lose each of his first eight starts.
“It was tough,” he said about his personal winless three-month stretch after being recalled from the minors to Denver.
“I get called back up to the Big Leagues and I want to do as best I can. I guess with the injury I wasn’t completely out of it. There were still some mental issues.”
After compiling an earned run average of 11.81 in five appearances in August, his overall ERA stood at an unimpressive 8.07 through nine appearances (including eight starts).
But then came the month of September.
“Once September came around, Bud sat us all down in a meeting and said this month guys that haven’t been playing much will play more so take advantage of it,” he said.
“I took that to heart. I was able to start that whole September. I was happy I was able to take the ball in that circumstance and perform.”
Gonzalez was masterful in the final month of the season, going 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in five starts. He allowed only 16 hits in 27.1 innings while notching 26 strikeouts.
And the competition Gonzalez faced in September?
Well, let’s say he wasn’t going up against only teams from the bottom of the National League standings.
In those five September outings, he faced the Dodgers (twice), St. Louis and Milwaukee, all playoff teams in 2019.
How did Gonzalez turn his fortunes around in September?
“Honestly, it was just homework,” he said. “I did some great homework and prepared myself well.
“Tony (Wolters) has been behind me the whole time pushing me. And all my teammates as well. Talking to them, they give me confidence. Hearing (Trevor) Story, (Nolan) Arenado, (Ryan) McMahon, it’s great. When it is my day to pitch, they are aware of it.”
His September prowess dropped his ERA from 8.07 entering the month to a season-ending mark of 5.29 in 14 games (12 starts) and 63 innings pitched. He permitted just 59 hits a year ago.
So, can Gonzalez return to his September 2019 form when the 2020 season opens and gain a berth in the starting rotation?
“They are showing me that they want me to be a starter,” he said.
“They are letting me start some games. I have told them that I want to be on a Big League team. Whatever role you guys want to put me in, I will do it. I just want to be here with a Big League team to win.”