Just 17 months ago, Luiz Gohara’s outlook might’ve been the brightest of the Braves’ young pitchers. A tumultuous 2018, strained by on-and-off field struggles, dulled his star.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Gohara’s value has plummeted. He’s more a wild card than potential frontline starter. That’s a far fall from September 2017, when his five-start sample made him the most intriguing prospect entering last spring.
He lost his father in the offseason, then had to depart the team in May to see his mother, recovering from heart surgery, in Brazil. He didn’t have a spring training because of injuries. He barely had a regular season – just nine games – because of the same. His conditioning remained a serious concern.
“Last year I had a lot of things going on,” he said. “I didn’t really have my mind (here).”
After enduring a throwaway season, Gohara spent the winter bettering his life. He was mostly in Florida with the team’s trainers, rehabbing and going through a health program that helped him trim 35-40 pounds and improve his eating and sleeping habits. He lifted weights four times a week.
He’s self-aware enough to know how important this year will be. His teammates lauded him as a sneaky All-Star candidate before he’d even arrived in Orlando last spring. Now he’s a fringe prospect.
At 22, time hasn’t run out.
“I hope I have what I did in 2017,” Gohara said. “I hope I have all that back now.”
Gohara devoted himself to getting right. His lifestyle was unsustainable. He admits his eating was excessive. He welcomed the Braves’ help getting him ready, mentally and physically, for this spring.
He says the offseason flew by. In December, he visited his mother again for a few weeks before returning to Florida for the remainder of the offseason.
“She’s feeling good,” Gohara said about his mother. “She’s getting better every day and doing the process her doctor told her to do. I’m really proud of her for putting in the hard work she put into her health.”
Gohara considers this a new start on his career. He’s leaving the dregs of last season behind. As he worded it, he’s figured everything out. He admits it was hard to stay focused before. That shouldn’t be an issue now.
And he’s taking every step with a newfound enthusiasm.
“He’s lost weight,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s dedicated himself to getting himself together and in shape.”
His body feels the best it has in quite some time. His shoulder is healthy – he threw his first side session Feb. 12 and says the ball felt great coming out. The eye-test supports his weight-loss estimation. He didn’t set a specific goal to lose, because it might result in overthinking, and the system in place did wonders, he said.
“The time I was here doing my rehab, I set up a program with the trainers and conditioning guys for me to work while I was rehabbing here (in Orlando),” he said. “As far as I see it, I feel pretty good for the work they did with me. I feel much better. Even outside the field, just from sleeping and recovering, it makes me feel much better. I’m proud for the job I did this offseason. I’m really thankful for those guys working hard with me the whole time.”
The team ushered in a bounty of new pitching prospects in Gohara’s absence. He knows the competition has only gotten deeper. There’s only one available spot in the rotation and he isn’t the only young guy who could fill the multi-inning role in the bullpen.
But make no mistake, his eyes are on that rotation spot. He was presumed to be in the mix last February. Even if he’s outdone in that competition, he wants to be part of the Braves’ success in 2019. He doesn’t want to be viewed as that wild card.
“I came here to earn my spot back,” Gohara said. “I think this is going to be a good spring for me to show them I’m ready to go for it in 2019.”
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