Gonzales pitched well and was happy to experience a perfect Puget Sound summer day in his first outing with the Rainiers
TACOMA — Marco Gonzales had heard all about them from his wife Monica, who was born and raised in Sammamish. But on Monday afternoon, he got to experience a trademark summer day in the Puget Sound area while making his first start as a member of Mariners’ organization.
Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in a trade Friday for outfielder Tyler O’Neill, Gonzales closed out Class AAA Tacoma’s homestand, pitching the Rainiers to a 4-3 win over the Sacramento RiverCats on a getaway day at Cheney Stadium.
Gonzales pitched six innings, allowing three runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. It was obvious that he could be placed into the Mariners’ starting rotation in the coming weeks.
“As we were told, he’s a strike thrower with a plus changeup,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said. “And that’s what he did.”
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Gonzales cruised through the first five innings without allowing a run. He needed nine pitches — all strikes — to get through the first inning. Gonzales allowed three hits over the first five innings. But after a long top of the sixth in which the Rainiers scored three runs, Gonzales lost the crisp command of his fastball, which sat around 91-93 mph.
“Fastball was a little flat coming out in the sixth; maybe I was little fatigued and winded here and there,” he said. “Truthfully, I’m running on a couple hours of sleep. I’m just going to flush it and get better the next time out. It’s all you can do.”
Besides the early fastball command, Gonzales impressed general manager Jerry Dipoto, who was watching intently, with his best pitch — a diving changeup he’ll use often.
“I’ve always been able to throw a changeup,” Gonzales said. “Coming from Colorado (he was born in Fort Collins, Colo.), that’s what you are built with. You have to throw a changeup because you can’t throw anything else. So that pitch comes naturally.”
Gonzales also flashed a serviceable curveball he believes is improving.
“The curveball is something I’ve been excited about coming back from surgery,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got some newfound confidence with it. It was something I was able to throw for strikes early and then put a couple guys away with it late. I can always get better with it.”
The approach to his repertoire is simple.
“In my position, I don’t throw 97 (mph),” he said. “So I need to be able throw any pitch in any count to any hitter. That’s something I pride myself on.”
Having made 12 appearances at the major-league level and the postseason with the Cardinals, Gonzales looked like a big-league pitcher in terms of controlling tempo and presence on the mound.
“I didn’t sit in on the pitcher and catcher meetings, but I knew he was prepared,” Listach said. “He’s been sitting here watching these guys for the last three days since he got here. He came out and executed. He’s got three quality pitches.”
Though Gonzales was happy with his performance, he also gushed about the weather, 76 degrees with a slight breeze. It was a stark contrast to the stifling humidity of Memphis and St. Louis.
“I felt great,” he said. “And the climate is fantastic here. The weather, you can’t beat it. I’ve always been jealous. My wife talks about how great the summers are here, and I’ve never been able to experience it.”
A former Gonzaga standout and first-round draft pick in 2013, Gonzales lives in Seattle during the offseason.
“It honestly couldn’t have worked out better besides the baseball,” he said. “The living situation is going to be incredible.”
Gonzales was admittedly stunned that the Cardinals traded him. But it comes with the territory at this time of year, with the July 31 trade deadline looming.
“It’s just something the last few weeks you are a little anxious and the tension is building,” he said. “I think everyone around the league in the majors and minors was kind of feeling that.”
Given the Cardinals’ struggles this season at the big-league level and the number of starting pitchers in the organization, player movement seemed plausible.
“I guess we were all thinking that they might make a move,” Gonzales said. “We didn’t know who it was going to be or what position. I think all of us came to the conclusion that we can’t play GM. We have to do what we do and stay in our jobs. If we have to put on a different uniform, then you just make it work. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable right away.”
Gonzales’ comfort level is aided by his health. After missing the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery, he’s had no arm issues in return to the mound this season.
“Everything has been really, really smooth,” he said. “I’ve been really blessed and thankful that I’ve worked with some great people with the Cardinals that have enabled me to come back strong and enable me to get back on the field and pitch without pain. This year has been a real blessing because of that. The results are what they are. I really don’t care. My arm has been feeling great, and that’s a win for me.”
As for the opportunity to pitch in the Mariners’ rotation, Gonzales won’t change the mentality he had in a crowded Cardinals’ organization, where rotation spots were not given.
“There’s a ton of competition in St. Louis,” he said. “And I think that’s something that’s going help me going forward that I can keep that competitive edge while I’m here. I just was doing what I can and waiting. I’m going to keep doing that and pitch like I have something to prove because I do. Wherever that takes me is where I’ll be.”