Gonzales, Borucki trending in the right direction together

June 19th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- On Tuesday, and both threw 30-pitch bullpen sessions that went well, signaling that both southpaws should progress with their rehab soon. Both have been on the injured list since April, but things are finally starting to trend in the right direction.

It’s a sigh of relief for both the Pirates and the players, especially Gonzales, who was limited to just 10 starts a year ago because of nerve issues in his elbow which eventually required surgery. When he was sidelined with a left forearm strain three starts deep into this season, it was understandable to worry about a worst-case scenario.

"It's easier now than when I wasn't able to throw,” said Gonzales before the Pirates' 2-1 loss to the Reds at PNC Park on Tuesday night. “Being able to step on the mound and compete and do what I want with a baseball is relieving because you just don't know if you're going to be able to do that again when you're injured.”

Both Gonzales and Borucki are slated to pitch live batting practices Friday, and Gonzales will ideally have some sort of five-day structure afterwards with a rehab assignment somewhere down the road. Borucki has been dealing with left triceps inflammation and a nerve issue and has been on a very similar program as Gonzales, to the point that they have thrown their three bullpen sessions the same days (Tuesday, last Saturday and last Wednesday).

“If you’re doing this by yourself, it’s tough,” said Borucki. “When you’re on the IL, you kind of feel isolated. You are a part of the team, but you’re not, at the same time. Having a guy to just be doing the gritty stuff you have to go through is nice. It’s like anything, doing something in pairs is better than doing stuff by yourself. It’s definitely helped having Marco around. We were close before, so it helps to have a friend and to just be there for each other.”

Obviously, getting both lefties back would be a huge boon for a pitching staff that is running thin on depth.

Borucki established himself as the team’s go-to lefty out of the bullpen last season, recording a 2.45 ERA over 40 1/3 innings after being signed midseason, and the Pirates have struggled to find a consistent lefty in the interim. Jose Hernandez was recently designated for assignment after struggling with Triple-A Indianapolis for most of the year. Josh Fleming is back after being outrighted off the roster in May, while Justin Bruihl was optioned to Indianapolis on Monday.

For a team looking for more middle relief and leverage relievers, Borucki certainly fits the bill.

“He was probably one of our top two arms last year at the end of the year, so to get him back is important,” said manager Derek Shelton.

As for Gonzales’ spot in the rotation, the Pirates already had to resort to two bullpen games during their last road series against the Rockies. Martín Pérez (left groin strain) threw a live BP Monday and came out of it feeling healthy, and Quinn Priester (right lat muscle) is also throwing again. Pittsburgh doesn’t have many other options on the 40-man roster outside of Luis Ortiz (who the team appears to prefer as a bulk guy with an opener rather than a traditional starter) or Daulton Jeffries, who was recalled on Monday.

Gonzales was the team’s most notable pickup during the Winter Meetings last December and tossed three strong starts before hitting the injured list. Getting him back would add some length to a rotation that almost needs six pitchers to help manage the workloads of Paul Skenes and Jared Jones.

“I think just getting back to full strength will be good for us,” Shelton said. “We continue to have guys that take next steps, so the fact that we’re there means we’re closing in on live BPs and other factors. Very encouraging.”

There’s still steps to take before Gonzales and Borucki can toe the rubber at PNC Park again, including those live BPs and rehab assignments, but after roughly two months of having to wait, heal and learn about their injuries, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

“It takes a lot of time, patience, and it's a process,” Gonzales said. “I can't be settled at all right now. I'll be settled when I'm back here helping this team win ball games.”