KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Mike Gonzalez says he feels like he's 22
again. He's lost a few pounds. His pitching arm is strong and
limber, and he's free of pain. So it's time to show the Atlanta
Braves what they thought they were getting when they acquired
Gonzalez two years ago.
The Braves are mostly concerned with his left arm, which broke
down not long after the Braves acquired him from Pittsburgh in the
winter of 2007. The previous year, Gonzalez converted all 24 of his
save chances for the Pirates, with 64 strikeouts in 54 innings. But
his elbow began hurting, so he shut it down for the final month.
Gonzalez got a clean bill of health before the trade to Atlanta,
but he pitched in only 18 games before doctors discovered a torn
ligament in his elbow. He underwent the Tommy John operation, which
generally requires at least a year of recuperation.
Gonzalez returned on schedule in July 2008 but there were
nagging doubts about his health.
He did have 14 saves, but his ERA of 4.28 was unacceptable for a
closer. He also gave up six homers in 33 2-3 innings. Now he's had
the offseason to get in the best shape of his career.