Clearwater, Fla. — There he is, by the table on which the clubhouse’s post-game spread has been laid out with cheeses, cold cuts and chicken.
Anthony Gose is en route to a shower after an afternoon game on a hot day at Spectrum Field that saw his Lakeland Flying Tigers whip the Clearwater Threshers.
You haven’t seen him in three months. But there’s an instant smile and handshake from a one-time Tigers outfielder who always seemed more buoyed talking fishing and hunting than chewing on baseball topics.
But today, the topic is, and must be, baseball. That’s because Gose has changed positions since those waning days at Tigers camp in Lakeland, Florida.
He is now, of all the wild twists the Tigers roster has taken, a pitcher. That’s correct. A man who started in center field for two years in Detroit, who came to the big leagues with Toronto as a left-handed hitting center fielder and who showed no particular interest or aptitude for a new position with either the Jays or with the Tigers, is now bent on making it back to the big stage as a bullpen pitcher.
There is only one problem in having Gose delve deeply and personally into this transformation — this plunge from swinging bats and chasing down 400-foot fly balls to throwing on a pitcher’s mound.
It’s ripe for introspection. But Gose isn’t interested. No, not even when a Tigers audience that had soured on him cares to hear how he arrived at this career pivot that seems, rightfully, as if it could be a blessing for all parties.
He isn’t granting media interviews.
His smile is 100-watt bright as he and a clubhouse visitor debate for several minutes the merits of having a simple conversation.
“Just doing my time,” he says, politely waving off any shot at dialogue.
But, he is reminded, this is a story with no apparent downside. He has been pitching at Tigertown for the past several weeks with the Flying Tigers. This came about after Gose, on a lark the team was interested in taking when he wasn’t going to make the team as an outfielder, remembered his prep pitching days in Los Angeles and decided an audition as a reliever was at least worth staging.
The Tigers’ eyes bugged. Gose had a mid-90s fastball. He could throw a curveball. Since then, after a rapid 101 course in Basic Professional Pitching, he has had extremely mixed results, which doesn’t bother a team when Gose, who is only 26, can throw a baseball through Kevlar.
This seems like an appropriate fact to toss Gose’s way as the interview sales pitch continues.
But, Anthony, you’ve been throwing the ball 97, 98, 99 —
“One hundred,” he corrects, that Gose grin still aglow.
It doesn’t matter, he says, with steady cheer. If he does this interview, he then must do others, and that would be a violation of a stance he decided a year ago would be necessary after things didn’t go well in Detroit, or at Triple-A Toledo when he had a dugout spat with then-manager Lloyd McClendon, was shipped to Double A, and deduced for reasons known only to him that the media was somehow complicit in a bad series of career turns.
So, he is bade farewell as he traipses in his wraparound towel to the shower. Gose’s pitching progress will need to be analyzed, exclusively, by others.
Dave Littlefield, the Tigers’ vice president of player development, sat last week in an office at Tigertown’s administrative building, just beyond right field at Marchant Stadium, discussing this improbable but possible path Gose might be taking in his professional baseball makeover.
“An eye-opener right from that first bullpen session,” Littlefield said of March’s dramatics. “We saw that first pitch — and whoa!
“This guy had a delivery, a nice loose arm, with live action on his pitches and with high velocity. He had a breaking ball that could be average to above average, and he was throwing around the strike zone with ease.
“You know what kind of athlete he is,” Littlefield said of a one-time teenage talent who was a second-round draft pick in 2008 out of Bellflower (Calif.) High. “He’s extremely intriguing.
“Who doesn’t want a lefty who the other day was bumping 100 (mph fastball)?”
Much to learn
Of course, it isn’t that simple as everyone, beginning with the Tigers, understood from the get-go.
Having a big-league arm is one thing. Refining it to a point it can be regularly trusted in serious games is another. There is so much, so very much, about pitching beyond hurling a baseball 60 feet.
Fielding the position. Holding runners. Working with a catcher on pitch sequences. Developing multiple pitches that not only must be thrown as strikes — but to certain spots within the zone.
This is nothing that’s going to be learned in three months. And maybe not in three seasons. This experiment is, at best, a quest to corral notions that are exciting but almost dream-like.
And the numbers, in garish fashion, confirm it.
Gose has pitched in six games. He has an 18.69 ERA, which looks like something from the William Cuevas School of Tigers Bullpen Pitching. He has pitched 4.1 innings, allowed six hits and nine runs. He has walked five and struck out four.
There have been back-to-back scoreless turns (June 9 and June 12) when he pitched a combined 1.2 innings, allowing a single hit, while striking out two and walking none. And there have been ordeals such as last Thursday’s at Clearwater when he gave up two hits, including a triple, walked two, and was socked for four runs while getting only one out.
The Tigers aren’t overly excited, or bothered. That’s because they’ve seen enough realities apart from the ghastly numbers to know there’s still deep potential 90 days after a man essentially began his professional pitching career.
“There has been all this adrenalin and anxiety early on,” Littlefield said, speaking of Gose’s early stints. “It’s made it tough to get any consistency with his stuff to where he can throw quality strikes.
“But he’s such a good athlete. We’re on a continuous routine of professional baseball pitching. He’s working between outings. He’s got to build that arm up to where he can handle 20 to 25 pitches. Then he’s got to do it back-to-back. It’s a process
“You can’t get 10 innings in one day. He’s only had a few outings, but that’s part of the intrigue. You get teased by what it could be at the end because all the ingredients are there.”
Of help, for sure, is Gose’s disposition. The Tigers rave about him. It’s as if a sequel to “It’s a Wonderful Life” began filming at Tigertown with Gose starring as George Bailey.
No repeats of that dugout flap a year ago with McClendon, which led to Gose being sent home and soon exiled at Erie. Gose is winning as many tributes with his citizenship as with his arm.
“He’s all ears,” said Andrew Graham, the Lakeland manager who appreciates how inquisitive, how hungry to learn Gose has been during their time together. “Whether it’s myself or Mark Johnson (pitching coach), he’s asking questions all the time.”
About control and command
Graham mentions another plus. It’s one a manager never imagined seeing from a player brand new to professional pitching.
“I thought we’d have an issue with him being too slow,” Graham said, meaning his pitch delivery to the catcher. “But he’s been 1.08 to 1.15 (seconds). He can almost get a little too quick.”
Johnson, who was a Tigers reliever in 2000, has been part of the tutoring crew retrofitting Gose as a pitcher.
“Does he have an above-average arm?” Johnson asked, rhetorically. “Yes. So now we’re working on things that come with being a professional pitcher.
“He’s got an above-average fastball. His curveball’s good as we work on its shape. His change-up is workable. It’s just a matter of getting him reps.
“He throws both of his top two pitches pretty clean. Like anyone else, he overthrows at times. It’s just a matter of game experience.”
Johnson mentions that distinction vital to any pitcher working at a team’s farm-system outposts. It’s about control and command.
Control, Johnson reminds, is being able to throw pitches in the strike zone. Command is being able to put it where a pitcher wants it within those strike boundaries.
Gose is laboring hard in a bid to master the simultaneous skills a pitcher must incorporate into a typical big-league mound shift. Or, maybe that word “master” isn’t reasonable. Not at this stage.
This will take time, his new vocation. Gose knows it. Or, rather, we believe he knows it. He isn’t talking. Gose only smiles when asked about his seemingly happy new state. Unless it’s to correct a questioner about his fastball velocity — don’t forget that radar-gun 100 — there isn’t much else he cares to say.