On a day when reports that James Paxton, one of their two proven starting pitchers in their rotation, likely needs season-ending surgery, the Mariners got a second straight suboptimal outing from their other proven pitcher, Marco Gonzales.
The prospect of losing Paxton for the season is crushing to the Mariners’ hopes of being more competitive than expectations and projections. But if Gonzales’ struggles were to unexpectedly continue for an extended period, the Mariners would be lucky to not finish last in the American League West.
Facing a Twins team that came into the game averaging six runs per game and boasting a lineup filled with power potential, Gonzales needed to have his typical command and execution. Unfortunately, his command was hit and miss at times. And the Twins racked up plenty of hits, not missing those pitches that caught too much of the plate in a 10-2 drubbing of the Mariners.
Gonzales pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs on nine hits, including two homers, with two walks and six strikeouts.
“Early on, I thought I made some good pitches,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t quite execute when I needed to and got myself into trouble with a couple of their bigger hitters. I’m frustrated to say the least.”
In his first two starts of the season, Gonzales pitched a total of 10 1/3 innings, allowing 12 earned runs on 17 hits, including five homers, with five walks and eight strikeouts. Opponents have a .370/.442/.826 slash line against Gonzales.
“Everything is predicated off command, and command of the fastball,” manager Scott Servais said. “I know he’s frustrated by it. One thing I know about Marc, he is as good a competitor as we have in here. He will grind it out, and certainly get better the next time.”
In 11 starts in 2020, Gonzales allowed five runs or more in one start. In 2019, he had back-to-back outings where he allowed eight runs (six earned) on eight hits to the Rangers and 10 runs on nine hits to the Angels. From there he ripped off six consecutive starts of allowing three runs or fewer.
“His off-speed pitches, they’re getting hit,” Servais said. “Oftentimes they are set up by commanding the fastball and getting them very conscious of the fastball on the inner part of the strike zone, certainly against right handed hitters, he just hasn’t had that. That’s what he was really good at last year, probably the best in the league and locating that ball in on righties. When you go to your secondary pitches, and you haven’t established inside, they become a little bit easier to square up. That’s what I’m seeing.”
Gonzales said there were “lots of things to be worked on” and improve besides fastball command.
“Obviously I have a high standard for myself in executing pitches and being able to keep control of the ballgame, keep us in it and giving us a chance to win,” he said. “These are all things that I pride myself on, and I just haven’t got the job done.”
Facing yet another talented starting pitcher in the Twins’ Jose Berrios, the Mariners offense mustered two runs on five hits against the young right-hander, who walked three and struck out eight.
Seattle gave Gonzales a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Ty France looped a single to center to score Luis Torrens. The Mariners looked like they might put together a big inning, loading the bases. But Jose Marmolejos’ hard line drive to right field was caught by Max Kepler.
The Twins answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning. Gonzales allowed back-to-back doubles to Jorge Polanco and Kyle Garlick for a run. With one out, Mitch Garver sat on a 2-2 changeup and hammered a three-run homer to center to make it 4-1.
“It shifted the momentum in the game,” Servais said.
A rain delay after the top of the fourth inning didn’t do anything to help Gonzales. He worked a scoreless bottom of the fourth but only got one out in the fifth. Byron Buxton jumped on a misplaced cutter for a solo homer to start the inning. After a double allowed to Garver, Miguel Sano ended Gonzales’ outing with an RBI single to left.
“You won’t see me work harder than I am right now,” he said. “The work and the process is not the issue. The results aren’t what I want them to be. But I’ve always been process focused and that’s not going to change now.”
Reliever Drew Steckenrider immediately allowed a single that allowed an inherited runner to score to make it 7-1.
The Twins continued to rack up hits and runs against the Mariners’ bullpen, scoring a run off Steckenrider and two off Ljay Newsome.