In an era where bullpens are filled with specialists who only want to excel in their own narrow role, Tom Gorzelanny is an anachronistic chameleon. The Nationals left-hander can morph into whatever manager Davey Johnson needs him to be. Long relief? Gorzelanny was once a starting pitcher. Two innings or more? No problem. An out against a tough left-handed batter? He’s up for that.
“I probably would have been upset about it (early in my career). I would have said, ‘I’m a starter and this is what I do. I’m not a reliever.’ I said it before, when I went to relieving, and I did it and I found, I guess, joy and excitement in that role,” Gorzelanny said. “Being in the bullpen, I found it to be fun, being able to come in and pitch and inning in a tight ballgame and get a hold. It’s definitely a good feeling to be able to know I can do that.”
Acquired in a swap with the Cubs for three minor leaguers in January 2011, Gorzelanny made 15 starts around a three-week stint on the disabled list because of left elbow pain, going 2-6 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.343 WHIP. After transitioning to the bullpen in July, he was 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 15 relief appearances.
“Davey brought me in late in games, and in big situations, and I think I was able to do a good job of showing him I could do those situations,” he said. “I don’t want to be just that guy who eats innings (in mop-up work). If I want to be down there, I want to contribute.”
In six of his relief outings, Gorzelanny pitched more than an inning. Since Johnson wants a pair of traditional long men in his bullpen, Gorzelanny’s experience and versatility make him a strong candidate for one of those spots.
Johnson acknowledged that he didn’t have as much flexibility as he’d have liked with his relievers.
“Two innings is special now,” he said. “I had a bunch of guys last year (who could pitch) one inning and when I tried to expand, I thought I was going to have a rebellion on his hand. ... Once they go to relieving and they start (pitching) for one inning, it’s real easy (to say), ‘Well, I’ve done my job.’ “
No so with Gorzelanny, who hopes he’s shown his manager that he can be called upon in a variety of situations. His pedigree as a starting pitcher won’t hold him back from contributing in relief.
“Having the experience of doing both and being successful at both has helped a lot in showing that I can do any role,” Gorezelanny said. “I like being a starter, I like pitching a few innings. I like the role of pitching one inning and sometimes one batter. It’s definitely good for my career to be versatile.”
One facet of relief work that Gorzelanny quickly took to was the mental aspect, which requires members of the bullpen to be able to put a bad outing behind them and prepare for their next call from the dugout.
“Starters, we got five days to relive what we did and think about all the bad things you did the start before,” Gorzelanny said. “It’s tough. You see another guy do well against the same team (you struggled against), and it’s, ‘What did I do? I thought I did the same thing.’ You relive that until your next start. Some guys will let that be a burden to them, affect them. But you learn through age and experience that you get through that quickly.
“When you work in the bullpen, if you have a bad game, the next day you can be in the game again, in the same situation, and change it all around. You always have to be ready to go. If you have a bad outing, you have to forget that because you might be coming in in the same exact situation and pitching to the same batter. You might do what you weren’t able to do the night before.”