LOS ANGELES -- Based solely on the results he's gained since ending a year-long stint on the disabled list, Mike Gonzalez appears to be back to normal. But as he continues to patiently wait to regain his normal velocity, the Braves closer knows he hasn't regained his dominant form. "What I've got now is good enough to compete and that's fine with me," Gonzalez said. "I'm just continuing to locate [my pitches] so that when [my velocity] does return, I'll be ready to roll." Since coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, Gonzalez has made eight appearances and seven of those have been scoreless. He's converted his only two save opportunities, recorded 13 strikeouts against no walks and limited opponents to a .129 batting average.
Obviously, it seems like Gonzalez is already rolling. But he's doing this with a fastball that has routinely been clocked between 90-94 mph. Before he began experiencing his elbow problems early in the 2006 season, he had the luxury of blowing batters away with a 97 mph fastball. "He's not throwing as hard as he did, but it's plenty good enough," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Just with his location and his breaking ball, nobody is hitting him." Along with being dominant, Gonzalez has also proven to be healthy since returning on June 18. He said he's only felt some "normal discomfort" and has been pain free. John Smoltz and others who have had Tommy John surgery have told Gonzalez that he'll start to regain his normal velocity anywhere from 16 to 19 months after the surgery. It's been about 13 months since the Braves left-handed reliever underwent his procedure. When the Braves acquired Gonzalez from the Pirates before the start of last season, they knew they were acquiring a potentially dominant closer who had occasional control issues. While converting each of his 24 save opportunities in 2006, he had issued 31 walks in 54 innings. As he continues to patiently wait for the return of his normal velocity, Gonzalez has put a greater emphasis on his location, and he believes this may benefit him in the future. "When my velocity does come back, I'll have two arsenals," 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.