When the Athletics broke camp in spring training, everyone thought that Dallas Braden would be the ace of the staff.
After all, he has a perfect game under his belt.
But when Braden went down after his April 16th game against the Detroit Tigers, the Athletics were a team without an ace.
Gonzalez stepped up and became the de facto ace of the team, and hasn't looked back.
So far in 2011, Gonzalez is 7-5 with a 2.38 ERA and has racked up 99 strikeouts. He's a force to be reckoned with, a threat to throw a gem every time he takes the mound.
In his last outing against the Florida Marlins, he tossed eight shutout innings, while allowing just one hit to the Fish, all on his way to earning that seventh win. He walked three and struck out seven.
So what will Gonzalez do in the future?
If he can keep his tendency to walk batters in check, he'll be untouchable. To the tune of 99 strikeouts in 102 innings, he's got the ability to cause swings-and-misses, and has the chance to be one of the best in the game. With Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum being a pitcher's park, Gonzalez can really be simply nasty. That'll help his numbers, but the real test will come on the road.
At home, he's got a 2.17 ERA, he's 5-2 and has 28 walks, 63 strikeouts and five home runs given up. Batters are hitting .188 against him in 58 innings. On the road, it's a different story. He's got a 2.66 ERA, is 2-3 away from home, has 18 walks, 36 strikeouts and batters are hitting nearly .250 against him in 44 innings.
If he can keep those walks down, he'll be one of the best pitchers in the AL West and perhaps all the American League. He'll be on the radar of teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, Phillies and Cardinals because he's got filthy stuff, but he'll also come with a hefty price tag.
Because he'll be one of the best, trading for him will cost teams not only MLB-ready top prospects, but also a star starter or two. Until Braden returns and even possibly afterwards, Gonzalez is their ace. If he's ever traded, expect to have to sell very high.
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