Gonzalez catching up to his potential

Right-hander Gonzalez catching up to potential

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Edgar Gonzalez has pitched in parts of four big-league seasons.

He's dealt with the expectations that come with potential and the disappointment that follows struggle.

He's been on a team that lost 111 games and he has endured an 11-game losing streak that included two-plus years in-between wins.

And all of this happened before he turned 24. So to say he has had to learn things the hard way, and maybe before his time, is an understatement.

You see, there was never a question of how much talent was located in Gonzalez's right arm, it was just a matter of the rest of him catching up.

When Gonzalez breezed through two levels of Class A ball as a 19-year-old in his first professional season and followed that up with a very solid 2003 season at Double-A and Triple-A, it seemed he was on the fast track.

A little too fast as it turned out.

When injuries hit the D-backs pitching staff in 2003, Gonzalez was promoted and appeared in nine games. The following year he went 0-9 in 10 big-league starts and was one of several young players force fed on a big-league team that would lose an numbing 111 games.

He made just one relief appearance for the D-backs in 2005 while he kept racking up the starts with Triple-A Tucson.

"To me, his problems were more mental than physical," Tucson pitching coach Mike Parrott said. "He just wasn't really mature enough to handle the Major League competition or even the Triple-A competition."

Gonzalez always pitched pretty well in Tucson, but it was clear that his disappointments at the big-league level, particularly in 2004, took their toll on his psyche.

"One thing I didn't really appreciate coming in was the scar tissue of 2004 for a few guys," said GM Josh Byrnes, who was hired in November of 2005.

Byrnes and others in the organization still believed in Gonzalez's potential so they figured it was time for him to take one step backwards in order to eventually make the successful transition to the big leagues.

That meant that in 2006 Gonzalez began his third straight season in Tucson.

"At the end of the day, I think last year he was very age appropriate for Triple-A," Byrnes said. "But the frustration was that he was approaching 80 starts in Triple-A, which is a lot. In some ways I think he reset his development clock last year and came up at the appropriate times so, hopefully, he's on course now to have a successful big-league career."

The appropriate times were a midseason callup and another in September. Both times he pitched well and showed he was capable of fulfilling the potential so many had seen in him.

"It felt much [better] than in the past couple of years," Gonzalez said. "I threw good in September and I want to keep on doing my job. I feel better about my stuff and I think I'm more mature and ready for anything. I just want to keep working hard."

Gonzalez was impressive in three starts during September and he is arguably the frontrunner to win the No. 5 spot in the Arizona rotation this spring. That's in large part because of how he threw last year, but also because he is out of Minor League options and if he doesn't make the team the D-backs would have to put him on waivers.

After watching him develop over the past four seasons to watch another team reap the benefits is unappealing.

Gonzalez made some mechanical adjustments during Spring Training, the most significant of which was not slowing down his delivery and trying to guide his offspeed pitches. But his performance last year was more the result of a changed mindset. Calls by umpires no longer effect him so much and neither do errors made in the field behind him.

"When I have the ball and when I'm on the mound I just focus on every pitch and throw it the best I can," Gonzalez said. "I just want to focus on every hitter, every inning. I've been throwing four years and going up and down, up and down. I have spent four years in Triple-A and I knew that someday I had to learn and adapt. I think I have learned a lot and I feel good about it."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.