At this time last year, Tom Gorzelanny was still trying to find equilibrium after a hectic few weeks. He had recently been traded from the Cubs to the Nationals, and mononucleosis struck him just before spring training. He arrived with his life tossed in the air and his body in a weakened state.
This spring, Gorzelanny has a far less jarring transition. After serving as the Nationals’ fifth starter for the brunt of last season, Gorzelanny will pitch out of the bullpen this year, primarily as a long reliever. Starters, almost by rule, want to stay starters, but Gorzelanny has accepted his full-time switch to relief.
“I feel like I’m going to be the long guy, be in the bullpen in some capacity,” Gorzelanny said. “I don’t really see much chance of making the rotation unless, God forbid, something happens to a few guys – quite a few guys. They’re preparing to pitch some innings, or if they need me to pitch to one batter or pitch one inning. I’m prepared either way.”
The Nationals moved Gorzelanny to the bullpen at the end of last season. He made his final start July 23, and over the next 26 days he made only three appearances. He spoke with Manager Davey Johnson, imploring him to put him in games more often. Johnson did, and he was impressed by how Gorzelanny handled the role – in 22 1 / 3 innings over 15 games, Gorzelanny had a 2.42 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .222 average.
“He was pretty upfront,” Gorzelanny said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be that long guy that pitches every 10 days and just mops up innings.’ I want to be a part of the bullpen and have a position where I can go late in the game or in a close game and be able to get an out. I feel I did a pretty good job of that last year. If this is what I’m going to do, I want to contribute. I want to have an important role.”
The Nationals tendered Gorzelanny a contract this offseason and paid him $3 million in salary arbitration, and they control his rights through the 2013 season. With a crowded pitching staff, Gorzelanny is still not necessarily guaranteed a roster spot.
He has no minor league options remaining, but the Nationals could try to trade Gorzelanny to clear room for either John Lannan or Ryan Mattheus, two pitchers with minor league options who currently seem to be on the outside looking in. This is unlikely, but worth mentioning: If the Nationals cut Gorzelanny more than 15 days before opening day they would owe him only one-sixth of his 2012 salary.
For now, though, Gorzelanny seems a likely part of the Nationals’ opening day roster. Johnson has repeatedly said he liked how Gorzelanny pitched in relief last year. And Gorzelanny has embraced the role, even if he thinks he could still start.
“I’m not far removed from it,” Gorzelanny said. “I feel that I’m also a reliever now. If a different situation comes up, I could be a starter. I could still do it. I kind of go both ways. I know I can be a starter again, but right now I see it as me being a reliever unless something changes. If they need me to be a starter, I’ll be a starter. I don’t see that right now.”