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Miguel Gonzalez gains separation from White Sox pitching mess

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Cutter-fueled rebound a welcome sight during a stretch that has been damaging for Don Cooper's reputation

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox’ signing of Miguel Gonzalez might not even qualify as an "offseason" move because it happened late in spring training. It also doesn’t meet Larry’s criteria for a significant move, as he came to the club on a minor-league deal.

But now that Austin Jackson is on the DL for several more weeks and Todd Frazier looks unlikely to leave Trayce Thompson in the dust, Gonzalez has taken the lead for the team's most valuable addition this season.

His Cy Young stats are pedestrian -- 1-2, 4.29 ERA, 49 innings over his nine starts — but in a season where John Danks and Mat Latos were both DFA’d and James Shields is pitching like he wants one for himself, "pedestrian" is a sight for sore arms.

Best yet, unlike the three struggling-to-toast veterans, Gonzalez is getting stronger during the season. On Monday in Boston, his fastball was back to its normal heat during his days in Baltimore, at least according to Brooks Baseball:

By some measurements, he never threw harder. He averaged 93.83 mph on his sinker, which is his fastest average for any pitch over any start, but he only threw eight of them over 99 pitches, so it might not qualify for radar gun titles. He threw three times as many four-seamers, and those clocked in at a healthy-but-precedented 93.17 mph.

That’s what’s old, and that’s good.

What’s new? Well, removing the four-seamers and sinkers from his most successful evening in a White Sox uniform still leaves 60 pitches unaccounted for. As an Oriole, the traditional fastballs accounted for 60 percent of his arsenal. Against Boston, it was close to one-third.

What’s taken the place?

The cutter.

In a season like this, fans could really use a classic Don Cooper success story, even if it’s closer to "a temporarily useful Hector Noesi" than "Cy Young candidate Esteban Loaiza" on the spectrum.

This has the makings of one. You can see it in the chart above, although it’s a little easier to notice if you narrow the time frame.

You can say he added a cutter, or you can say he’s throwing his slider harder, as it’s replaced that pitch entirely (he hasn’t lost much movement on it). Whichever the case, he’s leaning on it more heavily than he did with his old slider. He’s thrown the cutter about 25 percent of the time this month, while he threw his slider around 15 percent of the time with the Orioles.

As long as Gonzalez stays healthy -- he wore down with shoulder problems last season with Baltimore — he should have staying power. Unlike the three more accomplished pitchers aforementioned, Gonzalez has shown the ability to rebound from a bad start. The same pitcher who held down the Red Sox at Fenway couldn’t get out of the fourth against Detroit on June 14.

The question is whether he can offer a bit more. Robin Ventura has been conservative with Gonzalez’s leash, pulling him from successful starts at pitch counts of 72, 78 and 82. His splits for pitch counts and times through the order are reasons behind the early hooks.

On Monday, though, Ventura tested him. He tried to get a seventh scoreless inning out of Gonzalez after he threw six on 76 pitches. In terms of results, it didn’t work, as Gonzalez gave up the run after three straight hitters reached with two outs. In defense of the decision, the game-tying hit was a jamshot on a good pitch.

This is where the Sox’ terrible offense puts everybody else under great strain. The bullpen has been taxed due to short starts elsewhere, but the good starts only lead to high-leverage situations, and, recently, extra innings. The lack of runs prevents Ventura from having a safe opportunity to see whether a new-look Gonzalez can work a little deeper into games. When he takes a sensible risk and tries extending Gonzalez while he’s in his best form, it backfires — gently, but backfires nevertheless — and Ventura looks like a rube.

As the season goes on, I have a hard time fixating too much on individual starting performances. The Sox losing seven straight Jose Quintana starts is one reason. This one is another. Gonzalez threw 6⅔ innings of one-run ball against one of the league’s best offenses, and the Sox still couldn’t win it without Zach Duke conjuring the spirits of past Sox royalty to extend the game into the 10th. If a flaccid offense is a given and technically unable to disappoint you, then the only question is which other unit will be the one to let you down.

When these are the conditions for the pitching staff and coaching staff, you have to take your victories where they come. On Monday, a starter the White Sox refurbished and the bullpen held the Red Sox to one run over 10 innings at Fenway Park. Neat.