Coming out of the 2013 season, Severino Gonzalez seemed to be on the right path to reach the majors and be a contributing member of the Phillies starting rotation. That season, he had pitched at three different levels - Lakewood, Clearwater and Reading - and posted a combined ERA of 2.00 in 25 games, although just 14 of them were starts. The 11 relief appearances all came at Clearwater and perhaps, it was a precursor of things to come, with Gonzalez posting a 1.54 ERA as a reliever and a 2.24 ERA as a starter.
The next season, Gonzalez was exclusively a starter and things started to go downhill. Gonzalez went 9-13 with a 4.60 ERA at Reading in 2014, but still got a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley for last season and even wound up pitching in the majors. With the IronPigs, Gonzalez struggled to a 5.11 ERA, but was hit even harder in the majors, allowing a 7.92 ERA in seven big league starts.
With the influx of young pitchers into the organization, Gonzalez' future during the offseason was definitely in doubt. In Spring Training, the Phillies officially decided that there simply wasn't room for Gonzalez in a starting rotation at any level. The organization still felt he might be a fit, but it would have to be in the bullpen. It would also have to be at the Double-A level.
Gonzalez seemed to take to the role in Spring Training and made his first appearance of the season in Reading's season-opener Wednesday night. Gonzalez threw a perfect 1 1/3 innings, striking out three of the four batters he faced. He didn't just appear strong, he looked dominating in the role.
Pitching in relief takes a special mentality, but according to Reading manager Dusty Wathan, Gonzalez may be the right candidate for a role out of the bullpen.
"I think he likes it a little bit, too. He wants the ball whenever, he likes to pitch and I think that actually, he might develop into a guy that really likes the bullpen, because he likes to play," said Wathan. "When he was starting, he was always in the game and always talking about something with us and it might be a real jump-start to his career."
If Gonzalez can continue to throw strikes and get hitters out in his new relief role, it will be interesting to see how the Phillies handle his progress. The worst kept secret in the world is that they need bullpen help at the major league level, but there are certainly no guarantees that Gonzalez would be a candidate. First, he has to prove that he can get hitters out. Gonzalez and his new role are something to watch as the season progresses, and could lead to some help for Lehigh Valley and possibly in Philadelphia before the season ends.