Bucs' new veteran arm amped to help in '24

December 13th, 2023

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The Pirates need innings in 2024. A lot of them.

And the veteran starting pitcher they acquired this offseason is laser-focused on providing them.

“My goal is to put up at least 190, maybe even 200 innings this year. That’s my goal,” said on Monday in his introductory press conference. “Make every start [and] be healthy, and I know that I'm very, very capable of doing that.”

Gonzales has the track record to back it up, too. From 2018-22, he threw 765 2/3 innings over 131 starts, which averages out to 5.8 innings a start -- or in baseball math, between 5 2/3 and 6 innings per outing.

In 2019, Gonzales threw 203 innings while making 34 starts for the Mariners. The last Pirates pitcher to hit 200 innings in a season was Gerrit Cole in ‘17.

How much of an emphasis is this in-season longevity? Gonzales is training at Driveline this offseason in Kent, Wash., not far from his family’s residence in the Seattle area. Pitchers often go to the top-tier baseball performance institute to put a few more ticks on their fastball, to add more rotations per minute on their breaking pitches or to develop a new offering.

Not Gonzales.

“I’m not going to Driveline to chase velo. I’m going to Driveline to create a new routine for myself and learn new perspectives on pitching and gathering strength,” Gonzales said. “If I do end up throwing a little bit harder, that would be great. But I’m looking for endurance, sustainability and health, first and foremost.”

If Gonzales wants to stay deep into games, a big part of it will be how well he can command and play off his underpowered fastball relative to the league average. In his last full season (2022), Gonzales’ fastball averaged 88.5 mph, which was in the bottom 2% of the league.

But for Gonzales, power has never been about velocity. It’s been more about using other pitches, like his devastating changeup, to move all around the zone and weaken the contact off the hitter’s bat. It’s worked in the past, too; in that 2022 season, he was in the 85th percentile in average exit velocity (86.7 mph) and the 83rd percentile in chase rate (32.8%).

“I think it’s a lost art in this game,” Gonzales said. “I love being the guy who’s not [throwing] 95 coming out and getting guys out. That’s what I plan to do. If I can gain 1-2 mph at Driveline, great. But really I know that I can get just about anybody out with the stuff I have.”

A lot of Gonzales’ success also depends on the defense behind him, given he’s not going to strike out batters at a high clip. Thankfully, he’ll have the reigning NL Gold Glove Award winner at third base in Ke’Bryan Hayes, a Minor League Gold Glover and potential utility NL Gold Glove candidate in Jared Triolo and the unbelievable arm of Oneil Cruz around the infield to convert grounders into outs.

Even though the innings goal is Gonzales’ individual focus, he’s most concerned with how those outs turn into wins and how those wins turn into the Pirates reaching the postseason for the first time since 2015. Gonzales said he took note of the hot first month Pittsburgh produced last season, and he hopes to be a part of extending that success deeper into the calendar this time around.

“I'm very, very competitive, so I hope that we are out to win games and we are out to go and make a stamp in that division, because I do think it's competitive,” Gonzales said. “[Pittsburgh] really made a run at the beginning of the year, and I think the Pirates, it's no secret that they're young and competitive. 

“I think with the right tools and some momentum, we can really make some noise."