Miguel Gonzalez pitched in both, but his first start wasn't the kind that inspired much confidence. With his second, he became the first of the fifth starters that management and fans want to see again.
Ironically, that's because he minimized his on-camera time. Gonzalez only threw 72 pitches over his 5⅔ innings, including 37 over his first four innings (29 strikes). And maybe it's the lack of a high pitch count and long innings talking, but Gonzalez got his fastball back up to 92-93.
The bullpen couldn't carry his bid for a victory across the finish line, but Gonzalez accomplished his chief objective by living to fight another day:
"He did great," Ventura said. "He was spinning it nice and getting some bad swings and getting through it. He throws strikes. You know he’s going to be around the zone, let the defense work for you, and get some early swings as well.
"I haven’t gotten that much into it with (pitching coach Don Cooper), but he pitched well and he earned another shot at it."
Gonzalez was more deserving of the victory that ultimately went to Dan Jennings after stumbles by Nate Jones and David Robertson, but if anything, the Rangers' late rallies against the bullpen make his work even more impressive. The Texas lineup posed a difficult assignment, but it only really started showing its mettle after Gonzalez left the game.
The end result is a welcome one. The back of the rotation still qualifies as a fluid situation, but Gonzalez threw some platelets into the mix. Everybody can relax a little, knowing where their next fifth start is coming from, and with Avisail Garcia hitting .273/.350/.477 after a three-hit game and the Sox leading the Central by six games with a 23-10 record, fans are running dangerously low on things to complain about. Perhaps that's why Jimmy Rollins is entrenched in the second spot.
Gonzalez's return coincided with that of Alex Avila, and the pitcher complimented his catcher on their job well done:
"It was exciting to have (catcher Alex) Avila back there again. He did a really good job back there. I was impressed."
Avila had his own success at the plate, going 1-for-4 with two walks to boost his OBP to .359, even if the bat-to-ball stuff around it is lacking (.214 average, .250 slugging).
The tandem he's forged with Dioner Navarro really is a fascinating one, because there's little overlap between their physical skills/tools. Avila is a lefty with a great batting eye but a bat that's fading, while Navarro is a switch hitter with an aggressive contact-oriented approach. Their shared characteristic is that they're both considered pros among the pitchers, but Avila is undoubtedly the better receiver.
That last disparity makes it difficult to anticipate and interpret assignments. I liked seeing Avila behind the plate for Gonzalez's outing, because the Sox' fringe starters need all the help they can get. Yet I'd also like to see the same courtesy extended to Carlos Rodon, knowing how much Rodon thrived last year with a catcher who could handle his misses. I'm guessing that's not going to happen due to two-ply reasoning -- a second straight start might be overzealous for a guy just off the DL, and he'd still be facing a lefty starter, which is something to be avoided.
Navarro is a much better play from an offensive standpoint, and that useful flexibility is why Robin Ventura doesn't want to fall into personal catchers if he doesn't have to. If Avila catches Rodon under these circumstances, that'd be quite the statement. If Rodon struggles with Navarro again, it might be a statement worth making.