Miguel Gonzalez could be the X factor on the pitching staff

In this space yesterday, I labeled Nolan Reimold an X factor for the Orioles’ offense come April. If Reimold can stay healthy, he could be huge for the offense next season.

Who is the X factor on the pitching staff? I think Miguel Gonzalez is a candidate for that.

He was so good and so poised last year that it could be hard for him to duplicate that performance, but he enters spring training as someone who would really have to struggle badly through March to lose a starting rotation spot, and even that might not do it. It seems most of us are pretty confident that Gonzalez will have another strong season for this team.

He came out of nowhere, it seemed, last year. In 2011, Gonzalez went 0-5 with an ERA of 6.17 for Portland of the Double-A Eastern League, and he threw a total of 56 2/3 innings. He had missed the entire 2008-09 seasons due to injuries, but then went 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA for the Orioles.

In nine starts last August and September, the 28-year-old right-hander went 5-2 with a 2.76 ERA. Over his last three starts, when every game was so big, Gonzalez went 3-0 with an ERA of 1.83 against Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay.

Gonzalez won road starts against the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees (twice), Rays and Indians.

His success seemed to come due to quality pitches and not any good fortune. He showed a low 90s and sometimes better fastball that he located well, a very solid split-finger pitch and quality off-speed stuff.

Will American League hitters adjust and make it tougher for Gonzalez to pitch well next year? No doubt they will try, but it didn’t happen last year. Gonzalez gave up four runs over 6 2/3 innings on July 30 against the Yankees. When he faced them a month later, he pitched seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts. In his first start against Tampa Bay on July 25, he allowed seven runs in 2 2/3. In three later starts against the Rays, he pitched to an ERA of 0.93.

Jake Arrieta is another who could get the X factor label after going 3-9 with a 6.20 ERA last season, a season when he was the Orioles’ opening day starter. No doubt much more will be expected of him next season.

Who do you see as the X factor on the O’s 2013 pitching staff?

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