Gonzalez shows improvement, remains in rotation race

Coming off three tough appearances, Phillies righty allows one run in 3 1/3 innings

Gonzalez shows improvement, remains in rotation race

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez put together his best outing of the spring Friday afternoon against the Pirates at McKechnie Field.

Gonzalez entered the day with a 9.00 ERA in Grapefruit League play through his first three appearances, having given up seven runs on 12 hits and three home runs in seven innings. Facing a Pirates split squad on Friday, Gonzalez gave up only one run on five hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings.

Sandberg impressed with Gonzalez

Most of the damage done against Gonzalez came in his final inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Steve Lombardozzi to begin the game then retired eight straight hitters. The righty gave up two more singles in the third, but escaped the inning without allowing a run.

But Gonzalez staggered when he came out for the fourth. After recording one out, he served up back-to-back doubles to Pirates center fielder Starling Marte and first baseman Pedro Alvarez. He walked the next batter, Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez, and left the game for reliever Ken Giles.

"His last couple innings, he pitched behind in the count a little, but he made some pitches when he had to," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said.

Gonzalez struggled in his limited time in the Majors last season, giving up four runs on nine hits while striking out five in 5 1/3 innings over six appearances for the Phillies. But that came after a solid three months in the Minors. From June 20-Aug. 30, Gonzalez recorded a 2.19 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .195 average during stops at Class A Advanced Clearwater, Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Gonzalez, in the second season of a three-year, $12 million contract, is competing for a spot in the Phillies' rotation this spring. Left-hander Joely Rodriguez, one of the other candidates for the job, was optioned to Minor League camp on Friday morning, leaving Kevin Slowey and Paul Clemens as Gonzalez's primary competition to fill the last spot behind Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and David Buchanan.

Continuing on the pace he set Friday would help bolster Gonzalez's case for the job. His fastball velocity peaked at 95 mph, and he picked up his only strikeout by getting Alvarez to whiff at a changeup during the second inning.

"Overall, he continues to show improvement out there," Sandberg said.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.