Former Nationals left-hander Michael Gonzalez agrees to a minor league deal to return

Jeff Roberson/AP
Michael Gonzalez during the 2012 playoffs (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Michael Gonzalez, the left-handed reliever who was a key member of the 2012 Nationals bullpen, has agreed to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league camp, the team announced Tuesday morning. The signing of Gonzalez brings another proven left-handed reliever into the fold, and he could compete with Xavier Cedeno as a second left-hander in the bullpen.

Gonzalez, 35, signed a $2.25 million with the Milwaukee Brewers last winter and posted a 4.68 ERA over 50 innings spread over 75 appearances. The season before, he came to Washington on a minor league deal, was called up in June and was a solid left-handed specialist. The veteran posted a 3.03 ERA over 35 2/3 innings in 2012 and was well-respected by teammates.

“A veteran guy who has been around the block a time or two,” Manager Matt Williams said. “Knows how to get lefties out. He’s here on a minor league deal with the idea that he’ll compete. It’s a little bit late in the game. He’s told us he’s been throwing. We’ll see when he gets here what he’s done and where he’s at. But he’ll be able to compete for a spot in the bullpen.”

Gonzalez will make $1.5 million if he makes the major league roster and could make another $750,000 in incentives, according to a person familiar with the deal.

Gonzalez held left-handed batters to a .274 average last season, but in 2012, he limited them to a .179 average. Over his career, Gonzalez has held left-handers to a .219 average. Gonzalez’s fastball also lost a tick of velocity last season, averaging 90.9 miles per hour in Milwaukee but was 91.5 miles per hour in 2012 with the Nationals.

Gonzalez has a career 3.14 ERA over 11 major league seasons. He is close with Nationals closer Rafael Soriano, who overlapped with him in Atlanta. He is the godfather of one of Soriano’s sons. After the news was announced, starter Gio Gonzalez tweeted his excitement, referring to Gonzalez as his “brother from another mother.” Gonzalez is expected to report to camp on Friday, according to the person familiar with the deal.

Williams has said that he prefers two left-handers in the bullpen, but isn’t wedded to the idea. One left-hander would be the full-inning reliever who could face hitters from both sides of the plate, presumably Jerry Blevins, and the other would be a situational left-handed specialist.  “There’s a lot of big hairy lefties in our division,” Williams said “It’d be nice to have that specialist down there who we could call on to get that guy. We’ll figure that out as we go.”

Williams said he has liked what Cedeno has shown so far. Cedeno, who throws from various arm slots, spent most of last season with Class AAA Syracuse and posted a 1.31 ERA over 39 games. In two spring innings, he has allowed two hits. Of the five left-handers he has faced, Cedeno has allowed only one hit.

“It’s worked out his first two times that he’s been able to face lefties and give me a chance to really see that and give (pitching coach Steve McCatty) a chance to see that,” Williams said. “I think he’s been fine. He’s worked well. Commands the ball in the zone. Is able to expand the zone with his slider. That’s what we’ve seen so far. So I think it’s good.”

If the Nationals were to open the season with one left-hander in the bullpen, Williams could use right-hander Tyler Clippard, who is incredibly effective against left-handers, as former manager Davey Johnson did occasionally last season. But Williams said he prefers to keep Clippard solely in a set-up role.

“I would like to put Clip where he thrives and that’s in the eighth inning,” he said.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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