Two of the left-handed relievers the Nationals employed last season and courted in the offseason returned to Washington on Monday. Neither Tom Gorzelanny, non-tendered by the Nationals last November, nor Michael Gonzalez, who signed with Milwaukee as a free agent, spoke ill of their former employer.
The Nationals’ belief that their bullpen could survive with one left-hander has been one of the issues plaguing the team during the first half of the season, . General Manager Mike Rizzo admitted last month, and the team took steps to overhaul their bullpen by adding left-handers Ian Krol and Fernando Abad. Both have proven to be valuable additions, combining to allow only four runs over 27 1/3 innings.
“I guess they’ve got their own way of thinking things,” Gonzalez said before Tuesday’s game, his first visit back to Washington as a member of the Brewers. “I felt like it was a pretty good overall chemistry the team had last year. I was a little surprised they didn’t just take me but (Sean Burnett) or (Gorzelanny) either. It’s just the business of the game. If you let it get personal, it can be a problem. It is what it is. You live and learn. They learned they needed a couple lefties and that’s what you need from a playoff contending team.”
Both Gonzalez and Gorzelanny said they each were interested in returning to Washington. Gorzelanny, who made $3 million last season and was set to make perhaps as much as $4 million in arbitration, said he wasn’t surprised that he was non-tendered. He posted a 2.88 ERA over 72 innings as a long reliever, but the Nationals didn’t want to pay him that much to fill the same role this season. Rizzo said then that he was still interested in Gorzelanny but at the right price. They also passed over Burnett, who signed with the Angels, because of costs. (Burnett has been injured much of this season with recurring elbow issues.)
“I thought for a while there they wanted me back and I definitely wanted to come back,” Gorzelanny said. “And when I came down to it, they decided they were going to go another way. They wished me luck and I was able to sign with Milwaukee. They said they were interested but Milwaukee came a little bit stronger.”
Gorzelanny, 30, who spent two seasons in Washington, said the negotiations with the Nationals after being non-tendered were “not very” serious. “It wasn’t really much going on and then Milwaukee came … [it was] something you can’t really pass up,” he said. He signed with the Brewers for two years and $5.7 million and has served as both a spot starter and reliever.
“Thought maybe they would have a couple [left-handers] in there,” he said. “From what I know, the guys they have now are doing pretty well. It seems like they’re doing alright in that department.”
Gonzalez, 35, also wanted to return to the Nationals and enjoyed his one season here. The Nationals signed him to a minor league deal after he was passed over by other teams because of injuries. Last June he was called up and made important contributions down the stretch as a veteran left-hander, posting a 3.03 ERA over 35 2/3 innings and holding left-handed batters to a .179 average. Despite mutual interested, he eventually signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with incentives with the Brewers, an amount the Nationals likely weren’t going to match.
“It was an interest and they were in the mix also,” he said. “I just felt at the time it was better for me to go that way.”
Gonzalez faces the possibility of being traded by the Brewers, who are mired in last in the NL Central with a 32-49 record. “It’s always a possibility, man,” he said. “Being a one-year free agent. It’s just kinda how it goes. I don’t think about it too much. Is it a possibility? Yes. Probably a 75 percent chance I will be going somewhere. That’s just how it is. I don’t think too much of it.”
Both players were happy to catch up with old teammates Monday, the opening game of the series. Gonzalez caught up with Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, and even had a plate of food from old friend and teammate Rafael Soriano at his locker before he arrived.
“It’s good to come back and see the guys and rehash some of the memories and shake some of the guys’ hands I hadn’t seen in a while,” Gorzelanny said. “Family is happy. They got to come back and see some old friends.”