Dicky Gonzalez had just gotten a subpar year back on track when he went down on Aug. 24 with a right calf strain that some thought could keep him out for the rest of the regular season.
Not only did the Yomiuri Giants pitcher prove those fears to be unfounded, the right-hander looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.
Gonzalez (3-3, 3.48 ERA) has resembled his old self since returning to the Giants rotation this month, which has to put a smile on manager Tatsunori Hara’s face.
Gonzalez made an emphatic return on Oct. 9, tossing seven one-hit innings against the Chunichi Dragons at Nagoya Dome.
He delivered an encore on Saturday, denying the Dragons a chance to wrap up the league title with seven more innings of one-hit ball at Tokyo Dome.
In all, Gonzalez threw 14 innings against the probable Central League champions over the past two weeks and allowed no runs, two hits and just four baserunners.
“Right now, I feel 100 percent,” Gonzalez said. “I feel like I did two years ago (when he was 15-2 with a 2.11 ERA). I’m hitting the spots anytime I want and I feel confident.”
The Giants weren’t sure they’d see Gonzalez this soon after his injury, as some initial reports said he’d possibly be out until the start of the Climax Series.
With Gonzalez beginning to round into form after a tough stretch to begin the year, losing him would’ve been a big blow to a team that needs all the starting pitching it can get.
Gonzalez also was unsure about his status initially, but he made up his mind to return before the end of the regular season.
“The doctors told me I was going to be out six to eight weeks,” Gonzalez said. “That surprised me. The next day, I started walking, and I knew I was going to make it back.
“I just had patience and wanted to make sure I felt strong when I came back.”
Gonzalez’s return adds depth to a pitching staff led by lefty Tetsuya Utsumi and CL Rookie of the Year candidate Hirokazu Sawamura.
“I think when you see Sawamura, he’s amazing,” Gonzalez said. “And Utsumi is one of the best pitchers this year. I want to be between those guys. I want to help them. That’s the way I feel right now.
“Maybe I didn’t have a lot of opportunities this year, but whatever chances I get from now, I want to help them out.”
The Giants wrapped up the final spot in the CL Climax Series with a victory on Sunday, meaning they’ll face the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the first stage either at home or on the road at Jingu Stadium.
Having pitched for the Swallows for four seasons before joining the Giants in 2009, Gonzalez will be in familiar surroundings no matter where the teams square off.
“They have a good team,” Gonzalez said of the Swallows. “When they play at Jingu, they look stronger. We have to be careful.
“They’re all my friends, but as soon as the clock hits 6 (p.m.), it’s a different story. We have to play to win. I don’t want to say we’re not friends, but this is our job. . . .
“If we go over there, we’re going to try to win. I feel like we have a chance.”