SARASOTA, Fla. - Michael Gonzalez was a health riddle last spring, insisting that his left shoulder felt fine while everyone noticed his diminished velocity and spotty location. He blew two of his first three save chances and went on the disabled list April 14 with a strained shoulder. He wasn't reinstated until July 21.
Gonzalez posted a 1.76 ERA in his first 18 appearances after being activated. He looked like a different pitcher, and not simply because he no longer was closing.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn't announced a specific role for Gonzalez, and the left-hander isn't fretting over it. He's just glad to be healthy.
"Well, obviously, last year was more of a nightmare to me, especially starting the year," he said earlier today. "It was one of those things where you're fighting yourself. You always want to be healthy and you always want to be able to go out there and prove what you're able to do. I was fighting myself and it came back and bit me in the butt, but it's one of those things where I've got to put the past behind me and I'm looking forward to what I can do this year."
It's too bad that the 2010 season didn't run a little longer. The first half was such a waste.
"It was one of those positive notes where I wish the season had kept going," he said. "I wish I had gotten another month just because I felt good, but I didn't feel great. My velocity started coming up, my stuff was better, but it wasn't to the Gonzalez that I'm used to, when I just know I can go out there and get it done. I'm looking forward to going out there and getting it done this year."
And in whatever role Showalter chooses for him, which figures to be left-handed specialist and set-up. Of course, he also could close if other options are unavailable.
"(The role) has changed, but I feel good about the situation," Gonzalez said. "I'm at the point right now where I feel that I want to prove in any way possible that I'm good and I'm healthy, and it's more myself than anything else. I'm just excited about coming in here and getting going."
The bullpen figures to be a strength if everyone remains healthy. The team will closely monitor Jim Johnson's right elbow and Jason Berken's right shoulder. Koji Uehara has dealt with hamstring and elbow issues in the past.
"We've got some great arms, and obviously it's going to help a lot with the starting rotation," Gonzalez said. "You've got some experience, you've got some live arms. It's definitely an upgrade from last year. I'm looking forward to it."
Gonzalez also praised the offseason moves made to strengthen the lineup and noted the added enthusiasm that surrounds the club.
"Even guys who aren't Baltimore fans will come up to me and talk to me," he said. "It's a definite upgrade. You see just the names alone. Now it's putting it together and seeing how Buck is going to put that lineup today. So yeah, I'm excited."
Asked about Vladimir Guerrero, a late addition to the roster (well, once he takes and passes his physical), Gonzalez said, "That's huge. He's always been a presence when he gets up there. And it doesn't matter what age he is, he still swings that bat. And it's one of those things where you don't throw the pitch around his head and you don't throw it at his ankles, because you don't know what he's going to do with it.
"It's a definite presence and it's a definite upgrade to the lineup, and with the guys we have already, he's just added protection to (Nick) Markakis and these guys. It's going to be good. It's going to be a good year."