On Opening Day, Yomiuri Giants pitcher Dicky Gonzalez was laboring away in the minors.
Little did he know that just a few months later he would not only break into the ichi-gun team, he’d emerge as one of the top hurlers in the Central League early this season.
In his first five games with the Giants, Gonzalez is 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA and has yet to issue a walk in 34 2/3 innings.
“It was kind of tough,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t expect on Opening Day that you’ll have to go to the minor leagues. I just went over there, worked hard and kept doing what I had to do for this moment. I tried to do what I had to do. That’s it.”
Gonzalez added another chapter to his minors-to-majors story on May 28 at Tokyo Dome, tossing 6 2/3 strong innings in a 8-2 victory over the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
“Gonzalez pitched a great game tonight,” Yomiuri catcher Shinnosuke Abe said.
He also collected a hit and scored a run to send Softbank to its first loss of the interleague season.
“It’s great to have a pitcher like Gonzalez go out and do his best,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said after the game. “All I can ask is the starters give me five good innings and he did more than that tonight.”
The victory was Gonzalez’s fifth straight and made him the first foreign pitcher to win the first five starts of his career with the Kyojin.
“It feels great to get five straight wins,” Gonzalez said. “I just take it game-by-game. I’m really happy.”
The victory had added significance as Gonzalez’s wife and kids arrived in Japan just in time to see his latest triumph in person.
“I love my family,” Gonzalez said. “They give me great support, so I am happy for them, too. It was tough being here by myself.
“When we were talking last night, I told them I feel like I’m going to win the game and they gave me support,” Gonzalez said. “I feel very happy because they’re here.
“She’s almost like my pitching coach,” he joked, referring to his wife. “She tries to help me.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Gonzalez began his career in Japan with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2004. He pitched in 67 games for the Central League club from 2004-08, going 18-20 with a 3.86 ERA.
Injuries were an issue during his time with the Swallows and he signed a one-year deal with the Giants during this past offseason. Gonzalez started the season in the minors but has made the most of his time with the top team.
His play could turn out to be a bitter pill for Swallows fans, who saw Gonzalez’s fellow former Swallows-turned Giants, pitcher Seth Greisinger and outfielder Alex Ramirez, each have a huge year in their first season with the Giants in 2008.
Greisinger topped the CL with 17 wins last year and Ramirez went on to win the CL MVP.
Now it’s Gonzalez looking to find greater success after moving to the Giants.
“I don’t want to talk about last year,” Gonzalez said. “This is a new year. I’m with the Giants now. This is a big team. You feel comfortable with the offense. You’re going to have a couple of runs so I just concentrate on winning the game and throwing as many innings as I can.”