Gonzalez Set To Debut In Toronto

With the losses mounting and the team's young rotation suddenly struggling, the Oakland A's are turning to top pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez in hopes that he can give the team a shot in the arm. Gonzalez, who was ranked as the A's second-best prospect coming into this season by Scout.com, is coming off of a good stretch of starts with Triple-A Sacramento. We take a look at the left-hander inside…

Over the past three seasons, Gio Gonzalez has done a lot of moving. Just before the 2006 season, the left-hander from South Florida was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Philadelphia Phillies in the Jim Thome trade. After one season with Philadelphia, Gonzalez was sent back to Chicago in the Freddy Garcia trade just before the start of the 2007 season. After leading the minor leagues in strike-outs in 2007, Gonzalez was rewarded with yet another move: this time he was traded to the Oakland A's as part of the trade that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox. Now Gonzalez is on the move again, but this time, it isn't to a new organization, but a new level: the major leagues.

Gonzalez learned earlier this week that he was going to be promoted to the major leagues in time to make a start for the struggling Oakland A's in Toronto on Wednesday. He joins Greg Smith as the second Oakland A's starting pitcher to make his major league debut this season. Ironically, Smith also made his big league debut in Toronto, back in April.

Before the promotion, Gonzalez had been pitching for Triple-A Sacramento, where he had spent the entire season thus far. The talented left-hander has, at times, had an up-and-down season for the River Cats. In April, he posted a respectable 3.91 ERA, but he then struggled in May (6.46 ERA) and June (5.03 ERA) before rebounding with a strong July (2.30 ERA). His only start in August was a stellar effort during which he threw eight shut-out innings, allowing only two hits and three walks while striking out nine.

Many of Gonzalez's struggles this season came on the road in some of the more hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League ballparks such as the parks in Salt Lake City and Albuquerque. His ERA at Raley Field, which plays as one of the more hitter-neutral parks in the league, was a stellar 2.09. On the road, his ERA was an inflated 6.32. Gonzalez spoke to OaklandClubhouse.com about his home/road splits back in late June.

"I don't know what it is, really. I just feel comfortable at home. Who doesn't feel comfortable at home, you know?" Gonzalez said.

"I was talking about this to [Sacramento pitching coach Rick Rodriguez] and I was saying, ‘I don't know why, but I really feel comfortable pitching here as opposed to other stadiums.' He was saying, ‘that's just a mental thing you have going right now.' Hopefully, my next start on the road will be a good one."

In fact, Gonzalez had seen some improvement on the road since that interview on June 29. His next outing, in fact, was a brilliant one-hit, complete-game effort against the Fresno Grizzlies on the road during which he struck-out 12 batters. He then followed up that performance with a one-run, 7.1 inning effort on the road in Salt Lake, a place he had struggled earlier in the season. Gonzalez did regress some, however, in his last road start, during which he allowed three runs on six hits and five walks in only four innings at Round Rock.

As he has done throughout his career, Gonzalez has racked up the strike-outs this season. In 123 innings, he has struck-out 128 batters. He has also held opposing PCL hitters to a measly .233 BAA. Gonzalez's biggest problems this season have been with his walks (61 or nearly four and a half per nine innings) and his homerun totals (12 or nearly one per nine innings). Gonzalez has had a tendency at times to fall behind in the count early to hitters, which forces him to groove pitches or walk batters. Throwing first pitch strikes is something that he has worked on all season, and is an area that has improved for Gonzalez as the season has gone on.

Although Gonzalez stands at only 5'11'' on a good day, he isn't a typical soft-tossing lefty. In fact, he can throw his fastball as hard as 94 MPH. He tends to fluctuate his velocity on that fastball, running it anywhere from 88 to 94 throughout a game to keep hitters off-balance. Gonzalez's best pitch is his curveball, which he can throw in any count. He has a developing change-up that has looked better as the season has progressed. His arsenal and his build is similar to that of former A's lefty Ted Lilly.

Gonzalez was a supplemental first round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2004 out of Miami-area high school. He will be making his major league debut six weeks before his 23rd birthday.

Below are some Scout.com exclusive photos of Gonzalez since he joined the A's organization last winter.

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