A conversation with the Orioles new closer (with audio)

Like his idol, Nolan Ryan, new O’s closer Mike Gonzalez is a strikeout pitcher.

Last year, with Atlanta, Gonzalez fanned 90 in 74 1/3 innings. In his career he averages 10.6 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched. The great Ryan averaged 9.5 per nine.

With some young starting pitchers on the staff, O’s president Andy MacPhail said the O’s needed a reliable closer to hold their leads and help their collective confidence.

As a free agent this winter, the 31-year Gonzalez researched the O’s. He knew they had some good young pitching, but said he was also impressed with the Oriole hitters.

“These guys are going to score runs, and as a pitcher that’s what you want. You want opportunities. Last year, the starting rotation was obviously very young, two or three of them, that was their first year. They’ve taken some lumps, but now they are ready to show what they can do.”

Audio: Mike Gonzalez talks with Steve about preparing for his first season with the O’s

In 80 games in 2009, the left hander went 5-4, 2.42 with ten saves. National League batters hit just .209 off him and lefties batted just .194 vs. Gonzalez, who was 7th in the Majors in strikeouts by a reliever.

Gonzalez, who throws a fastball that can hit the mid 90’s, along with a slider and change, says he’ll spend time at spring training getting to know his new teammates.

Gonzalez, who underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2007, had a career high 24 saves and an ERA of 2.17 with the Pirates in 2006.

He loves the challenge of holding a one-run lead in the final inning.

“That’s where you want to be. That’s what makes me tick and gets my blood pumping. That’s definitely where I feel most comfortable.”

Gonzalez was a 30th-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 1997 out of San Jacinto junior college. He signed a two-year deal with the Orioles in mid December and says he is ready to tangle with the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.

“I’m ready to get it done already, man. That’s what I’m definitely looking forward to. That was one of my deciding factors (in signing here).”

Coming tomorrow - An interview with Billy Rowell, who has spent the past two months working out in Florida. He talks about his time in Frederick, his hopes for this year and some changes with his swing.

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