It’s not just the command of his pitches that has made Texas Rangers rookie Chi Chi Gonzalez so effective in his first two starts.
It’s the number of pitches he throws, including a curveball that he added in spring training.
Gonzalez, who threw a complete-game shutout Friday night against the Royals, has a five-pitch mix that can leave hitters baffled while struggling to square up a ball, wondering if it’s a slider, cut fastball, changeup or sinker. Throw in the curveball, which he did three times Friday night, and it keeps hitters guessing.
Gonzalez is a pitch-to-contact pitcher, meaning he relies on hitters getting themselves out by hitting weak groundouts or soft fly balls. He’s not going to strike out a bunch of hitters, so could his move up to the major leagues actually benefit him?
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“Guys who see the ball better hit it better, so it’s just a matter of hopefully they hit it at somebody,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a matter of keeping [pitches]down, getting ground balls and if they make contact, hopefully it’s weak, or if it’s hard it’s at somebody.”
He’s the first Rangers pitcher to throw a shutout in his first two starts since Len Barker in 1976. According to Elias, Gonzalez is only the third pitcher in the past 45 years to throw a shutout in his first or second start against a World Series team the prior season — Cleveland’s Dennis Eckersley did it in 1975 and Colorado’s Jason Jennings in 2001.
“I just wanted to keep going until they said enough is enough,” Gonzalez said. “I was having quick innings. I remember not having to go to the stretch much the whole game so that helped me out, too.”
Pitching coach Mike Maddux said part of what makes Gonzalez effective is that he never throws the ball straight.
“He’s got movement, he commands the baseball,” Maddux said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, that’s his biggest strength, his mental ability and approach.”
The highlight for Maddux was Gonzalez getting Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon out on curveballs.
“It was nice to see him use a new pitch in a moment like that,” he said. “To have the confidence in it. You have to give kudos to a young man who is willing to learn, try new things, but to have the ability to go out there and execute is really neat.”
Joey Gallo has struck out six times in eight at-bats in Kansas City, including four times Friday night.
He singled in the first inning Saturday but looked overmatched in striking out twice. Gallo has worked hard in the minors to shrink his strike zone. But he is facing some tough major league pitching, and he’s likely to strike out a lot in his career. It’s not too concerning to manager Jeff Banister.
“It’s a learning experience for Joey,” Banister said. “I think he’s learning what they’re trying to do to him. He’s logging in information. He’s going to be fine. I’m not concerned. Been in the big leagues for four days.”
Plus, Banister added, the big splash Gallo made in his debut and hitting homers in his first two games probably drew more attention from Royals pitchers.
“This is what happens to you when you get off to such a spectacular start, they pay attention, they notice, they watch,” he said. “And if you’ve got power, they know you can hurt them quickly, so they’re really going to study you and pay attention to you.”
Banister dismissed the notion that Gallo needed words of encouragement after a four-strikeout night.
“If we felt like we had to talk to him after every single at bat or every single night, he wouldn’t be here,” he said. “The kid’s a tough kid.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760