The 33-year-old southpaw is entering his 14th season of professional baseball this year and looks to find a spot in the Indians’ heavily-crowded bullpen battle this spring. A former second round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003, he is one of the elder statesmen in the camp competition for one of a handful of available spots in manager Terry Francona’s bullpen for the coming season.
Gorzelanny has logged some work and mileage over the course of his career dating back to his entry into the pro circuit in 2003. Back then, he was working exclusively as a starter and made his debut in a handful of games for the Pirates in 2005 before winning a career-high 14 games in 32 starts in 2007. By 2009, his numbers were regressing and he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in a six-player swap just before the July deadline.
The Cubs used him intermittently as a starter for his two seasons in Chicago, but he was dealt to the Washington Nationals prior to the 2011 season for three minor leaguers. Towards the end of July that season, the Nationals moved him into their bullpen and in 2012, he put together a solid 4-2 record and 2.88 ERA in 45 games in his first extensive look as a reliever.
He signed with Milwaukee following the season and started the year in the Brewers bullpen before a trial run as a starter again in nine starts in July and August. The results were suspect at best and he returned to the bullpen, but made just two pitches on September 2nd against the Pirates and exited the game with a shoulder injury. The condition was diagnosed as rotator cuff inflammation, but led to offseason surgery in December to clean up the shoulder joint. Recovery kept him off the Major League mound until the middle of June. Over the final three and a half months of the season, he was sharp, appearing in 23 games and logging 21 innings, striking out 23 while walking eight, and allowing just two earned runs to score (0.86 ERA). Only one ball left the yard off of the veteran left-hander.
Despite the strong numbers, his splits were unconventional. Right-handers hit .216 off of him and he averaged 4.33 strikeouts per walk against them. Lefties hit .324 off the southpaw and drew five walks for a .439 on-base percentage for the year. Despite the reversed splits, he was scooped up by the Detroit Tigers in the offseason on a one-year, $1 million deal.
With the Tigers, the splits flipped back to normal, but right-handers hit .356 with a .454 OBP off of him. His walk rate and hit rate were up, his strikeout rate was down, and he finished the season 2-2 with a 5.95 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in 48 appearances in his first taste of the American League. His poor results on the mound led to him being designated for assignment and he ended up at Triple-A Toledo for a stretch during July and early August.
His numbers with the Mud Hens were not great, but he was with the club to work on an adjustment of mechanics. The organization wanted him to change his arm slot and drop it to more of a sidearm angle. It led to a release point almost six inches lower and gave him more movement on some of his pitches. He also picked up a mile per hour on his fastball.
In the first half of his season, he was throwing a fastball for nearly two-thirds of his total pitches, while mixing in a curveball, changeup, and slider. When he returned from Toledo, the slider was accounting for more than a third of his pitch selection and the fastball was used just over half of the time while he continued to sprinkle in the occasional change and curve.
While he was still feeling his way through using the new arm angle on the mound, Gorzelanny showed that the new slot could be beneficial to him. While his numbers in 2015 make his minor league contract with an invite to spring training a less-than-exciting move for the Indians bullpen in 2016, the potential shown by some of his late results with the new mechanics makes him a low-risk candidate to look at.
The Indians bullpen looks to be in the market for three to four pitchers. Left-handed options include Gorzelanny, veterans Joe Thatcher and Ross Detwiler, and returning options Kyle Crockett, Giovanni Soto, and potentially T.J. House in a long-relief type role depending on his results in the spring.
Gorzelanny, with strong career numbers against left-handed hitters and a new look on the mound, could be a LOOGY option for Francona as the club tries to solidify the left side of the relief corps.
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