Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Gorzo shines in return

Tom Gorzelanny makes a successful return from injury - AP Photo/Matt York

On September 16, 2006, I went to PNC Park for a game between the Pirates and the first-place Mets. The Mets were one win away from clinching the NL East. On the hill for the Bucs was Tom Gorzelanny, making his first start in just over a month due to an arm injury. Gorzo went four innings, allowing just one run on four hits and leaving after throwing 72 pitches. The Pirates eventually won 3-2 on Ronny Paulino's ninth inning double. The gutty performance from the rookie Gorzelanny helped the Bucs sweep the Mets and keep them from clinching in Pittsburgh.

Fast forward to August 7, 2007. Gorzelanny has enjoyed a brilliant second season, and currently is one of the National League's top left-handers. Last night he made his first start in about two weeks due to shoulder stiffness. Again, he pitched very well in his return from injury. He went seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits, striking out nine and walking two. For his effort, he was rewarded with his tenth victory of the season, as the Bucs won 8-3. Jack Wilson and Ronny Paulino continued their recent mini-surges at the plate to lead the offense.

One knock against Gorzelanny has been poor mental toughness. But to be quite honest, I don't see it. The two times he has missed time due to injury in the Majors, he has responded with a strong outing in his return. Just over a year ago, he faced the Cubs in his hometown of Chicago, his first professional appearance there. With countless friends and family in attendance, Gorzo threw eight shutout innings and allowed only two hits. He had a terrible spring in Bradenton this season, but shrugged it off and has been tremendous since the team came north to Pittsburgh. Finally, he has dealt with poor run support all year. In Gorzelanny's six losses this season, the Pirates have scored a total of six runs. In five of those games, they have scored one run or less. That is quite a burden to put on a young pitcher, but Gorzo has handled it calmly. I have no concerns about his mentality on the mound.

The play of the game was made in the seventh inning. With the Pirates leading 4-2, one on and nobody out, Chris Snyder yanked Gorzelanny's 1-2 pitch deep to left. Jason Bay, who was the subject of this article in Tuesday's PG, headed back toward the wall. On this play, Bay looked about as comfortable as I have seen him all season. He leaped at the fence and pulled Snyder's home run back. He capped it off by throwing a laser to second for the double play. Gorzelanny ended the inning on the next pitch, and the Pirates held their two-run lead. Bay has taken quite a bit of grief for his defense this season. It was nice to see him make such a huge play.

(Off the topic a bit: I have always felt that Bay's largest flaw regarding his throwing arm is poor mechanics. He rarely gets his entire body into a throw, which usually results in a Little League style toss. He definitely got more on this throw as he seemed to have more momentum moving toward second after bouncing off the wall. My question is, who do we blame for this? The coaching staff for not fixing the problem? Bay for being a Major League Baseball player, but not knowing how to crow-hop? Dave Littlefield? Tony Randazzo? I'm not sure.)

The Diamondbacks defense was terrible in this game. What was Micah Owings doing when he fielded a routine comebacker, jumped into the air and launched the ball into right field? Has Chris Young ever seen a fly ball? I almost thought the ninth inning was a dream. I believe it was about midnight, and 19 hours awake was beginning to catch up with me. I dozed, woke briefly, dozed again, and so on. Repeatedly, I woke to Lanny's voice rising to say, "...and the throw gets away! [Insert name of Pirate player] scores on the play!" It seemed like the D-Backs made five errors in the inning (I see now they only made two. Weird.). If this is how you get to first place, maybe the Pirates are not that far away.

Tonight, it is Paul Maholm (4.50 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) throwing against Byung-Hyun Kim (4.63 ERA, 1.57 WHIP). Gametime is 9:40 PM.

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