Gronkiewicz Inching Closer to Major Leagues

Gronkiewicz Inching Closer to Major Leagues

Lee Gronkiewicz just finished his sixth season in professional baseball, and despite a 2.50 career ERA, he has yet to be called up the Major Leagues. After another solid season, Gronkiewicz took the time to talk to InsideTheDome from Mexico. Currently pitching for Obregon, Gronkiewicz believes he is getting closer to the majors.

If you look at his numbers you might not think there is anything special about Gronkiewicz. The 28-year-old finished 2006 with a 3.27 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse, but the numbers are skewed. Over a period of three days in late July, Gronkiewcz had perhaps his two worst outing of his career. On July 23 he allowed three runs in 2/3 innings, and two days later he allotted four runs, without recording an out. If you eliminate those two outs Gronkiewicz' ERA drops to 1.88.

"I really felt I had a good year in Syracuse," Gronkiewicz noted. "I had that bad week which really hurt my numbers, but overall I pitched well."

Injuries played a role in his 2006 season causing him to miss about a month of the season in May. Plagued by a bad back, the right-hander came back and still pitched effectively, but he understands the injury possibly derailed a dream.

"I think if I didn't have the back injury, I would have been in a Blue Jays uniform at some point in the year."

Although he didn't live out his dream this past season, Gronkiewicz did have another impressive moment, when he was selected to pitch for Team USA in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. He picked up the victory as Team USA defeated Cuba, 8-5, in the Gold-Medal game, after tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

"Playing on Team USA was the highlight of my baseball career so far," noted the reliever. "There was a lot of pressure in the games, and when we beat Cuba it was amazing."

The Los Angeles native did make one change back in March, which helped him throughout the entire season.

"I eliminated my changeup in my repertoire, and focused on a splitter which was a great pitch for me, and became my out pitch."

While many pitchers get comfortable with one specific catcher, Gronkiewicz had the task of pitching to three different catchers with Syracuse during the course of the season. Mike Mahoney, Jason Phillips and Erik Kratz all caught the SkyChiefs closer in 2006, but he noted the experience was a positive one.

"Each one calls a game differently, and it was good for me in terms of keeping batters honest."

Despite his successful season, Gronkiewicz was disappointed about the big innings he allowed.

"When the opposing team scored on me, they scored a lot. In the past it would be a run that I would allow occasionally, but this year when it went bad I exploded."

Gronkiewicz allowed at least one run in 9 of his 41 appearances. In four of those games he allowed two runs or more.

"I need to eliminate my bad innings."

Despite not having reach the majors in his career, Gronkiewicz got closer this spring when he was invited to the Jays major league camp.

"I feel like I am close to getting a chance in the majors. The Jays have a lot of great young pitchers so it's not going to get any easier for me."

As far as his chances for the 2007 season, the closer is optimistic.

"I feel like I can be in the mix this year."

However, Gronkiewicz is also aware that other clubs have noticed his success and understands a trade could be near.

"I think the Jays have at least thought about my name when they made some moves this past year. I have heard my name involved in trade talks, so that increases my chances of making it to the majors."

Until then, Gronkiewicz is pitching in the Mexican Winter League and facing former Major League players who are more polished than Triple-A players.

"This league has some great hitters, who can handle breaking balls. As a result I need to use my fastball more, something I have not done in the minors."

"I hope when I go to spring training I will have great command of my fastball."

Jays General Manager has made it public that he wants to keep the cost of the bullpen down in 2007, and focus on spending the money in the rotation and the offense. Although that could work in Gronkiewicz' favor, there are other issues which even the equation out.

"The Jays' have a few pitchers who are out of options, so they will get the first chance. I feel like I can get outs at any level."

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