Going, going, Gonzo

If you noticed that it took me until early this afternoon to approve the comments, and some questions went unanswered, I have an explanation to go along with my apology.

I'm in Sarasota.

No, really. I filed the morning entry from my gate at BWI before boarding my 7:32 a.m. Airtran flight, with its connection in Atlanta.

The Sarasota Chamber of Commerce should be proud. I must love this place.

I also have work to do. I hustled to the rental car counter and drove straight to Ed Smith Stadium, hoping to catch a few of the injured Orioles before they scattered for the day. I was told noon would probably be too late, but I figured that I had nothing to lose with my 12:15 p.m. arrival.

Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.

I flung open the doors to the stadium office, took two steps toward the clubhouse entrance and was greeted by Mike Gonzalez, who had changed back into his street clothes and was headed for the parking lot.

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He looked surprised to see me, which I understood. I mean, what are the odds?

Anyway, he's the guy I was most interested in finding, since he threw live batting practice on Monday and will pitch an inning in tomorrow's extended spring training game on one of the back fields.

"It felt good. I was able to throw all of my pitches for the first time," he said.

Before anyone asks, you can't blow a save in live BP. And I'll make the jokes around here, if you don't mind.

"I'm excited about tomorrow," he continued. "Obviously, tomorrow's going to tell a lot because you turn it up a notch when you see those hitters up there in game time. That's going to be the big test.

"Everything's been kind of smooth. No setbacks. Smooth right along. But like I said, tomorrow's a big day."

Gonzalez went on the disabled list after posting an 18.00 ERA and losing twice in three games. He converted one save at Tropicana Field, but it should have come with a safety net.

Gonzalez says he's been diagnosed with two small tears in his rotator cuff and some fraying in his labrum after visits to team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens and renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. It's believed that these tears have existed in his shoulder for a while - typical for a pitcher - but he no longer could throw with them after compensating for a sore back in spring training.

"Both doctors felt a very aggressive rehab would give me an opportunity to come back," he said.

"It was one of those things where I kind of exposed it, starting with the back issue. Because of it, I changed my mechanics and exposed my shoulder. Trying to get over the hump once the season started, and even the last inning I threw in spring training, I was trying to get around it, trying to get over, and I changed my mechanics just a tad bit. But that's all it takes to expose your shoulder and maybe expose a weakness you already had there. That's exactly what happened. I did something that changed my whole way of throwing and it got me.

"The shoulder was strong, the shoulder was stable, everything was good going into it. The way it was explained to me by both doctors is, you go into any pitcher's shoulder and he's going to have something, but it exposed itself when I started to throw differently. My strength was there when they tested me, but I was going to be losing a lot of control and not be able to throw as many strikes as possible.

"I could tell. I'm the kind of guy who's trying to throw that inside fastball, down and inside on right-handed hitters and down and away to left-handed hitters. When I was trying to do that and I was throwing up and away, I knew there was something going on there because that just doesn't happen. That's my pitch, that's my bread and butter. When I wasn't able to do that, I knew there was something going. And the all of a sudden came the pain."

The shoulder became inflamed, and the Orioles shut him down.

"It was on fire," Gonzalez said.

Dave Walker, the Orioles' minor league medical coordinator, monitored the reliever's progressive throwing program. Restricted to flat ground, Gonzaelez threw from 60, 90 and 120 feet before facing live hitters in BP.

"This guy Walker here has been unbelievable," Gonzalez said. "I definitely feel much stronger. It feels really good. I haven't felt this strong shoulder-wise in a long time. We went aggressive at it. He sat down and pretty much told me what I was thinking. I said, 'Hey, look, I want to be as aggressive as possible without hurting it because I need to get back up there.' And I feel like I've been in tune with him - my shoulder and my progression. We've been going at it pretty well."

I'll let you know how he looks, and how the shoulder feels, when he throws an inning tomorrow.

Jim Johnson tells me that it's supposed to be 90 degrees. And I'm choosing Ed Smith Stadium over the beach.

No, really.

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