LOS ANGELES -- There was a time when Chi Chi Gonzalez’s future in baseball was less than certain. When Tommy John surgery prevented him from pitching in the Majors in 2017-18, he mulled the possibility of returning to Oral Roberts University to finish his degree in public relations/media, with an eye toward a career in broadcasting or journalism.
As of September 2019, those plans are on hold. González had yet another solid outing, delivering five innings out of the bullpen en route to a 4-2 Rockies victory over the Dodgers on Saturday night. It was Colorado’s first win at Dodger Stadium since June 30, 2018, snapping a 12-game losing streak in Los Angeles.
“You can say that Chi Chi was the key to the game,” manager Bud Black said. “Five innings, two unearned runs. He didn’t make a pitcher’s fielding play, which was frustrating, I’m sure, for Chi Chi and for us, but besides that, I thought he threw the ball great.”
Originally scheduled to start the game, González, 27, ended up following Kyle Freeland, who made his return from the injured list with two scoreless innings. The right-hander allowed two hits and a walk while striking out a career-high eight batters on 79 pitches. The five-inning effort was the longest relief outing for a Rockies pitcher at Dodger Stadium in club history.
In four September outings, González has a 1.69 ERA, a marked improvement from his 8.07 ERA over his first nine appearances with the Rockies. All the while, he’s stayed true to his process.
“I’ve stuck to the same routine,” said González. “Strength coaches are helping me out a bunch. Coaches, players, teammates -- I mean, it’s been a whole [group effort] this year to help me out.”
The main thing driving González’s recent success, though, is an uptick in fastball velocity. Rather than topping out around 91 mph with his four-seamer, he’s been able to pump it up to 94, making it more difficult for hitters to adjust to his changeup. That was evidenced by the swings and misses he got on 10 of the 20 changeups he threw on Saturday.
“[Catcher Tony Wolters] went and visited me on the mound before I started warming up,” said González. “He asked me, ‘What’s working?’ And I told him my changeup was moving a bunch in the bullpen, so let’s go with it. And he took it seriously, and we went with it.”
As important as anything, though, is that González is healthy and has stayed that way for an extended stretch for the first time in quite a while. The overall numbers this season leave room for improvement, but if this month is any indication, González is capable of doing just that.
“It feels great,” said González. “I’m happy to be pitching in September again. No issues, thankfully.”