The last pitcher to start a game for the Mariners during the interrupted 2020 spring training was supposed to be the pitcher to start opening day at T-Mobile Park vs. the Texas Rangers.
On March 11, a day before baseball shut down due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, Marco Gonzales tossed 3 1/3 innings, allowing an earned run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts. With two more Cactus League starts scheduled, he was on a steady progression to make his second straight start on opening day — an honor he cherished.
Instead, Gonzales’ first time on the mound of any Major League Baseball-affiliated park came Friday when he threw a bullpen session during the first of two group workouts held by the Mariners on their first of “summer camp.”
“I was able to get off the clay a little bit and throw about 40 to 50 pitches, with (hitter) stand-in work as well,” he said. “It felt great. I’ve been really anxious to get back on a dirt mound. I’ve thrown a lot of my bullpens off of turf, so being able to dig in a little bit and get my feet under me felt great.”
Barring any drastic issue, Gonzales will still get that opening-day start either July 23 or July 24, depending on the soon-to-be-released revised 60-game schedule.
From a natural progression, Gonzales doesn’t feel exactly the same as he did March 12. He has been working out diligently and throwing, but there are certain things that can’t be replicated in bullpen or even live batting-practice sessions.
“It’s tough without game action to really build up the competitive side,” he said. “But arm strength and body health, I feel as good as I’ve ever felt. I’m healthy and ready to go. I’ve been long-tossing and throwing two bullpens a week. One of those bullpens is probably more intense with someone standing in (the batter’s box) and getting some looks that way.”
Gonzales had been throwing to his brother for part of the hiatus and then to Austin Nola, who had returned to the Seattle area a few weeks ago.
Last season, Gonzales reached career highs in starts (34), innings (203), wins (16) and strikeouts (147). With the shortened season and the Mariners expected to use a six-man pitching rotation to start, he might get 10 to 12 starts in 2020.
“I’m not going to read too much into that,” he said. “I’m going to approach every start the same. I don’t look at the total number of starts that I might get at the beginning of a season. I just look to the next one and prepare the best I can and go try and win. It won’t be any different. If I only get 10, then they’ll be the best 10 I’ve got.”
As the Mariners’ player representative for the MLBPA, Gonzales spent a large portion of the last month and a half dealing with meetings and phone calls as the contentious negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA for baseball’s return played out over social media. With no official agreement reached, commissioner Rob Manfred dictated the schedule.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not going to comment on the negotiations. I’m just going to look forward to the season we have at hand and look forward to getting back on the field competing.”
The group of 15 to 20 players missing from Friday’s first workout were expected to join the team Saturday when they are officially cleared by MLB. The absence of four members of the coaching staff from the first workout was noticeable, and that will continue all season.
The club announced Thursday that hitting coach Tim Laker, infield/first base coach Perry Hill and bullpen coach Brian DeLunas would not participate in spring training or the 2020 season due to underlying health risks which could make them vulnerable if they contracted COVID-19. Servais also said that Tony Arnerich, the team’s minor-league coordinator and catching coach, would only work remotely.
“It’s tough not having those guys around,” Servais said. “They mean a great deal to our team, our players, our clubhouse environment. They still will be working, you know, watching a ton of video and in contact with the coaches that are here. But the decision was made by MLB, (and) organizationally with the doctors involved. It’s a tough one. But again, it’s different times and have to react differently. So we’ll go forward with the group we have.”
Having just turned 68 in March, Hill falls into the at-risk age category. DeLunas, who turned 45 on May 3, has endured a long battle with kidney issues and is currently awaiting a transplant. Laker, 50, was diagnosed with colitis in 1992 and dealt with a near-deadly pancreatic infection in 2001.
Joe Thurston, who was supposed to be the hitting coach for Class AA Arkansas, will handle the first-base coaching duties while Hugh Quattlebaum, the minor-league hitting coordinator, will help out assistant hitting coach Jarrett DeHart. Trent Blank, who was hired to be minor-league coordinator of pitching strategy, will help out with the bullpen coaching duties.
Baseball at CenturyLink
In an odd juxtaposition, there was a football being tossed around T-Mobile Park and baseballs being thrown the length of CenturyLink Field on Friday. No, this wasn’t one of those weird two-sport, publicity-seeking exhibitions by Russell Wilson and his marketing group. In an effort to maintain social distancing and because of spatial limitations at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners were granted permission by the Seahawks and First & Goal Inc. to use CenturyLink’s playing surface on a daily basis.
The pitchers who weren’t throwing bullpens Friday walked out the back exit of the park, across Royal Brougham Way and into the football stadium to do their throwing progression of playing catch and long toss, as well as pitchers’ fielding practice and other workouts.
“It’s a nice plus,” Servais said. “They’ve got turf over there, so it doesn’t tear up our field by having all the bodies on it. It’s really a good opportunity for us, and I really appreciate First & Goal Incorporated and the Seahawks for helping us out.”
As for the football being thrown around in T-Mobile, well, that was being done by a few players to warm up their arms early before playing catch, and later by a few coaches. Judging by the throws, Wilson’s job as Seahawks quarterback is safe.