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Gonzalez says health, velocity will improve

Gonzalez says health, velocity will improve

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles closer Mike Gonzalez threw a side session on Wednesday morning with no reported problems, and is scheduled to pitch one inning in a Minor League game on Friday.

"That's the plan," said manager Dave Trembley, who added that he was encouraged by the news about Gonzalez and outfielder Felix Pie.

Pie has been slowed this past week with a minor case of left shoulder tendinitis, an injury that stemmed mostly from lifting weights. He hasn't appeared in game action since March 10, but he threw and hit on Wednesday, and is slated to play Saturday afternoon. Trembley said he would have played Pie on Friday, but because it's a night game, he opted to hold off for another day.

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Meanwhile, Gonzalez will make the trip to face the Phillies for what will be his first game action since Saturday. The lefty has been slowed with lower back tightness and exited Saturday's "B" game after facing only two batters.

Although several national media outlets have speculated about the health of Gonzalez's arm, noting his distinct drop in velocity, the 31-year-old has maintained that there is nothing wrong with his arm. He reiterated that sentiment Wednesday morning, calling his back injury "no big deal."

"I've had it before," Gonzalez said, "so I know what to do."

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The veteran hasn't been particularly impressive this spring, allowing an earned run on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts over two innings. He has made it clear that his velocity won't be at its best until the end of Spring Training.

Trembley acknowledged Sunday that Gonzalez's velocity is down, but he said the team has done its homework on its new closer -- including talking to Gonzalez's former teams -- and isn't alarmed.

"That's his normal progression during Spring Training," Trembley said. "He will start dialing it up as we get closer to the start of the season. There's nothing wrong with his arm."

Instead, the lefty with a herky-jerky delivery said he is using camp to work on using his changeup more frequently, a pitch that could be extremely beneficial, given that he's predominantly a fastball pitcher.

Gonzalez had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in 2007 and missed most of '08. Last season in Atlanta, he set career highs in appearances (80), innings (74 1/3) and strikeouts (90). Gonzalez, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason, has held opposing hitters to a career .209 batting average.

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

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