The Southern League could hardly contain Stephen Gonsalves through the first month of this season. So when the third-ranked Twins prospect returned to the International League, it was no surprise he stood up to the stiff competition.
Gonsalves (1-0) surrendered one hit and faced one over the minimum in 7 2/3 frames as Triple-A Rochester blanked Pawtucket, 2-0, at McCoy Stadium. The No. 79 overall prospect struck out five and walked one, throwing 55 of his 92 pitches for strikes.
Video: Red Wings' Gonsalves finishes on high note
The lanky left-hander debuted at the Minors' highest level last August and amassed a 1-2 record and a 5.56 ERA over five appearances with the Red Wings. He threw 3 2/3 innings in the Grapefruit League this spring to wrap up an offseason in which he took on a lighter workload.
"I didn't throw as many bullpens as I normally do in the offseason," Gonsalves said. "I kind of wanted my arm to get that extra month of rest."
MLB.com's ninth-ranked left-hander was reassigned to Double-A Chattanooga at the onset of the season and planned, with the team, to return to Triple-A once he felt comfortable. After going 3-0 in April, allowing four runs in four starts spanning 20 1/3 innings, it was easy for the organization to make good on its promise and elevate the San Diego native back to the IL.
"I was excited to get back up with this group of guys and show them what I have and get through my game and pitch and show who I am," Gonsalves said.
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The 23-year-old said he did not have a feel for his breaking pitches Tuesday, but he relied on his fastball and changeup to produce early contact and keep his pitch count manageable.
"I was able to flip in a couple 0-0 curveballs, but when it came to 0-2, I was kind of spiking it and yanking it a little bit," Gonsalves said. "They weren't going to offer a little off the plate. I was just getting lucky with early contact, being able to go 0-1 fastball or 0-1 changeup and get the outs."
The fourth-round selection in the 2013 Draft faced 24 batters and threw 11 first-pitch strikes. Although some were out of the zone, Gonsalves opened counts with purpose pitches that were effective in preventing hitters from getting comfortable in the box.
"I was able to throw fastballs in, off the plate, kind of get their feet moving and then just go with the changeup," he said. "Every pitch, even though there was a lot of balls, there were good purpose pitches behind them that led to early contact."
The 6-foot-5, 213-pound hurler let up his lone hit to Jordan Betts with one out in the second and Betts was quickly erased when Aneury Tavarez bounced into a 4-3-6-1 double play.
Gonsalves then collected 17 consecutive outs to get into the eighth. He walked Mike Olt on four pitches to start the frame but avoided the quick hook by getting Betts to pop out on the first pitch. That earned the lefty-on-lefty matchup with Tavarez that resulted in a strikeout.
With the righty-swinging Jeremy Barfield due up for Pawtucket, Rochester manager Joel Skinner opted to bring in Alan Busenitz. The right-hander got the game's last four outs, allowing three hits and striking out three in the ninth to earn his first save and seal the Red Wings' second shutout this season.
Gonsalves' two runs of support came in the fifth. Kennys Vargas, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the third, belted a solo shot and Twins No. 25 prospect Jake Cave delivered an RBI double. Cave also doubled in the fourth to bring his average to .205.
Both runs came off Red Sox starter Justin Haley (0-4), who yielded seven hits and struck out five. Pawtucket's offense was shut out for the fifth time this season.