Forgive Gio Gonzalez if his short-term goal is pretty basic.
"I just want to throw one pitch in a White Sox uniform. At least one pitch," he said Tuesday.
Gonzalez, 34, has waited 16 years for that one pitch. And he’s still waiting.
Originally drafted in the first round by the White Sox in 2004, he was traded twice – once for Jim Thome in 2006 and once for Nick Swisher in 2008 – by the organization. His reunion with Chicago came last December, when he signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the team.
Then a shoulder injury struck.
And then a global pandemic.
“It's sad to say I did that have that depression, kind of like, am I ever going to get to wear this wonderful uniform in this city that drafted me and get to pitch, finally, an inning with them?,” Gonzalez said.
Tuesday signified a step closer to making that pitch a reality. For the first time since he was drafted by the White Sox, Gonzalez returned to the home bullpen in left field to throw.
“It was funny, today, after a bullpen session, I was telling (executive vice president Kenny Williams and pitching coach Don Cooper), the last time I threw off this mound was in 2004 (because) when you get drafted, you get to throw a bullpen for the team that drafted you,” Gonzalez said. “I had that little moment with Kenny and Coop and I told Coop, 'The last time you saw me, I was a young kid and I had a lot of maturing to do when you had me, and now I'm an older gentleman with a little bit of mileage in my arm.’ I think it was worth the wait.”
Now Cooper and everyone else with the White Sox are hoping that mileage still allows Gonzalez to throw in actual games during this shortened 60-game season. A shoulder issue prevented Gonzalez from getting much work in during spring training and it’s now apparent that he wouldn’t have been available had the season started on time. Gonzalez said he spent the hiatus getting physical therapy in Pinecrest, Fla., where he lives.
“The staff there really took care of me, really helped my shoulder kind of get to where it needs to be now. From where I started to now, I think I've made a dramatic change,” he said.
But he’s still not 100 percent.
“I think my shoulder has progressed almost 95 percent, which this break really did help in a way where I could rest my arm and kind of get it going,” he said.
It’s possible that Gonzalez will make up that last five percent in the next 17 days before the regular season begins, and with Michael Kopech not even in camp with the White Sox, it sounds like Gonzalez will be needed. But when asked if he would be OK coming out of the bullpen if necessary, two things were clear: 1) Gonzalez would prefer to start, and 2) there’s still some trepidation with the left shoulder.
“It's putting me in a tough spot. I'm coming from a shoulder injury, trying to get into a healthy season as far the 60 games for the guys and trying to get into a postseason for the team,” Gonzalez said. “I don't want to risk it by putting myself on a shorter day rest to kind of get more innings.”
That said, he understands that traditional pitching roles could be in flux during this wonky season.
“If the time comes down the stretch, I think so, but I think it's too early to ask for that kind of help, but we'll see,” he said. “You never know. I'd like to help as much as possible, but again, I have to make sure I take care of my arm before I decide to make those decisions.”
The good news? Gonzalez is talking like someone who plans on pitching for the White Sox soon. The bad news? The shoulder issue might not be completely behind him.
So as Gonzalez still waits for that one pitch with the White Sox, the White Sox will be hoping for a whole lot more.