Gonzalez visits Atlanta for 'pen session

Gonzalez throws in Atlanta

ATLANTA -- During the past two months, the Braves have only evaluated rehabbing pitcher Mike Gonzalez through reports. But before Friday's series opener against the Phillies, they got to see why the left-handed reliever believes he could be activated within the next week.

Gonzalez, who is attempting to return from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow, will continue his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Richmond on Saturday. But while passing through Atlanta on Saturday, he stopped at Turner Field and completed a full bullpen session in front of the impressed eyes of Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.

"He was good and it was nice to see, because all I've been getting was reports from extended spring training and from [Double-A Mississippi] pitching coach Derek Botelho," McDowell said.

After spending nearly two months pitching in the stress-free atmosphere of extended spring training, Gonzalez was sent to Mississippi on May 29. Four scoreless appearances later, he's now set to pass his final test with Richmond.

"Right now, I'm going to go to Richmond, and it might take one outing or it might take two outings, hopefully not more than that," Gonzalez said. "I'm just really ready to get back. It's just a matter of getting that slider. For the most part, the slider feels good. But I just want to make sure I have that strikeout pitch when I need it."

Braves manager Bobby Cox didn't say that Gonzalez has a specific timetable for his return. But having just lost John Smoltz earlier this week, he'd certainly like to have the left-handed potential closer back in the mix as soon as possible.

"We'll see," Cox said. "The thing I'm going on is what [general manager Frank Wren] says."

While pitching during the early-morning extended spring training games, Gonzalez was concerned that his fastball was clocked between 88-90 mph. But when his adrenaline got pumping with the promotion to Mississippi, Gonzalez saw his velocity rise to 91-94 mph.

Now that he's confident about his elbow's health, Gonzalez just wants to gain more consistency with his slider. Of the 10 times he's needed to throw it, he says he's been able to throw six good sliders.

"It comes out when I need it, so I know it's there," Gonzalez said. "It's just getting it more on a consistent basis."

Gonzalez, who converted each of his 24 save opportunities for the Pirates in 2006, could prove to be a key addition for the Braves bullpen. Rafael Soriano has looked better in his past two outings. But if Soriano's elbow were to cause him any further trouble, Cox could certainly use Gonzalez as his closer.

Over the past few months, Gonzalez has received some advice from Smoltz and other Braves pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery in the past.

"They've told me that my body will tell me when it's ready, and right now, it's telling me that it's about ready," Gonzalez said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.