Michael Gonzalez understands that he won't regain his closer duties immediately upon getting dressed for today's game. He'll have to earn it.
"Whatever they want to do, that's fine," he said. "My goal was to get back up in the big leagues. That's definitely where I needed to be. I think everything's going to even itself out once I'm up here and showing them I'm healthy. It's just going out and showing them I'm healthy. You can't go out and say much from their standpoint when they haven't seen me pitch in three months and going by word of mouth. I'm just going to go out there and do what I do and show that I'm healthy, and I think everything will even itself out."
Gonzalez made three appearances before landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He went 1-for-3 in save chances and allowed four runs and five hits in two innings, with four walks and three strikeouts.
Gonzalez pitched in 12 injury rehab games, allowing six runs and 13 hits in 12 2/3 innings. He walked three, struck out 16 and gave up three home runs, including two in the NY-Penn League.
"Every outing got a little better," he said. "Breaking ball got a little more crisp every outing, fastball got a little more velocity, but I guess the biggest thing was getting more command. Obviously, I didn't have that early on and it felt really good being able to go out there and throw strikes.
"You never want to go out the way I went out. And right after that you get injured and you're feeling that pain and having to come through the whole process. It seriously felt like it's been years before I got back to a big league clubhouse. It was hard physically, but mentally it was very draining. You're talking about three months rehabbing and going back and forth. Obviously, down there the guys are great and all, but that's not where you want to be. Just overall, wanting to get back and do what you're capable of doing."
Gonzalez says an MRI revealed two small tears in his rotator cuff and some fraying in his labrum. He's been told that he can continue to pitch without worsening the condition if he takes precautions.
"Both doctors assured me there's obviously play in everyone's shoulder, but I had some stuff going on in there and I needed to strengthen the shoulder," he said. "If I keep the shoulder strong, it should be able to be good, so I'm going off that. That's two doctors and two good-reputation doctors that I feel comfortable with, so I'm going to go out there and keep doing it."
Asked if his injury occurred in spring training, he replied, "You try to figure everything out. You brainstorm and you try to do this and that. I think overall as soon as spring training started, I started out with the back spasms. They hurt a little bit and I backed up a bit, about a week and a half or two weeks, and all of a sudden I tried to play catch and I tried to fast-forward, thinking it was that easy.
"A couple pitching coaches started showing me some video from a couple things in spring training and Opening Day and that just wasn't me. Arm angle wasn't there. You don't feel it as a person. You don't feel it when you're out there doing it, but when you go back and you look at the video, you're like, 'Wow, I don't know how I got to that point.' But it could just be so many things. It was more of a chain-thing, where it started in my back and it finished up over in my shoulder and it definitely started putting more stress on my shoulder."
Gonzalez will try to make up for lost time - and lost leads.
"Every time I go out there, I'm trying to give my best performance," he said. "Numbers don't lie. My last six years have been successful years and I know what I'm capable of doing. That was the most frustrating part, coming out here and not being able to do what I'm able to do. I definitely don't feel that I'm going to be blowing guys away like it used to be, but I feel like I'm competitive enough to get to that situation. And just having a little conversation here with Brian Matusz, it was like, 'Hey, it could come out any time, at any given time.' The thing is that I'm healthy, and once that happens, it's back to normal. I've definitely been seeing some upside."
Here's the Rays lineup: