ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Marco Gonzales barely had the chance to react to the blur that was a baseball rocketing at him, much less catch it or avoid it.
On the 11th pitch of his start Wednesday night at Tropicana Field, Gonzales was struck on his left wrist by a vicious line drive off the bat of right-handed hitting Harold Ramirez, which according to MLB Statcast had an exit velocity of 109 mph.
With less people than the announced crowd of 7,290 in the building, the thud-like sound of the ball striking Gonzales’ wrist was audible and unpleasant.
It sent Gonzales to the ground in immediate pain and brought manager Scott Servais and head athletic trainer Kyle Torgerson to check on him.
After a brief conversation, Gonzales exited the game with Torgerson with what was later diagnosed as a left wrist contusion.
The immediate aftermath of the situation was an unexpected bullpen game, featuring four relievers being used, each providing mixed results, and a 3-2 loss to the Rays where Seattle’s offense was shut down, if not shut out. The Mariners saw their four-game winning streak snapped.
“You never know what the game is going to throw at you and tonight we got that certainly when Marco went down in the first inning,” Servais said. “That ball was smoked and luckily the initial look at the X-rays, it is not broken. I think we’re very lucky there, but obviously he’s going to have some swelling and it’s sore.”
The long-term effects of Gonzales’ injury on the Mariners are yet to be known. Seattle might need to make a roster move in the coming days. Even with expanded rosters until May 2, the Mariners have burned up some bullpen usage in the first two games of this series.
“Just fortunate and very lucky that scans came back negative,” Gonzales said. “If it gets me in any different spot, I think we’re looking at a lot worse.”
The ball struck him below the wrist bone and on the outside of his hand, leaving seam marks and plenty of swelling.
“Off the barrel, you know it’s coming back at you, but you just don’t know where,” he said. “You hope it’s in a good spot. I just tried to cover up as best I could and maybe try to get a glove on it. I didn’t even realize where it hit me until I hit the ground. Just fortunate that it wasn’t worse.”
Gonzales might like to get the wrist looked at again, but missing his next start, which is scheduled for Monday in Houston, isn’t a consideration.
“That’s not even a thought in my mind, missing the next start,” he said. “I’m going to come with the intention to play catch tomorrow and see how it feels. Just take it day by day. I’m hoping to knock out some swelling and go from there.”
If the wrist doesn’t come around as expected and Gonzales has to miss that one start or more, Seattle, which is two days into a stretch of 16 games in 16 days, might be forced to put him on the injured list and find a replacement for the rotation.
Would the Mariners call up top pitching prospect George Kirby to fill an open spot, or resort to a bullpen start? They won’t have the extra two players with rosters having to be trimmed down to 26 on Monday.
Kirby, who pitched Tuesday, has been outstanding for Class AA Arkansas and battled Matt Brash for the final rotation spot to the end of spring training.
Meanwhile, the Rays seem to have found a Washington native to remain in their revamped and injury-riddled starting rotation.
Right-hander Drew Rasmussen, who was born in Puyallup and was a standout pitcher for Mount Spokane High School before playing for Oregon State, delivered a stellar performance against the team he grew up watching and cheering for.
With friends and family watching back in Washington, Rasmussen, 26, tossed six shutout innings, allowing just two hits with a walk and nine strikeouts to pick up his first win of the season.
“It’s really cool to get to pitch against them,” he said. “It’s a team I grew up rooting for and it was a place I always dreamt of playing, growing up. So to get to play against them is always an honor. I don’t know if I felt any extra juice against them in particular, but to have the success I did tonight, it was great.”
He threw a career-high 84 pitches that featured 19 swings and misses, also a career-best.
“It’s really a credit to Rasmussen,” Servais said. “That’s a hard cutter. He’s throwing that pitch early in the game and it’s 89-91-92 mph, then running the fastball up and then a little bit with the slider with some depth late. We chased some pitches out of the zone which has been uncharacteristic of us early in the season, but really got to credit to Rasmussen. He threw the ball really well.”
Rasmussen’s nine strikeouts were the most of any starting pitcher vs. the Mariners this season. Justin Verlander struck out eight in eight innings on April 16.
The Rays provided their starter with just enough run support.
Tampa picked up a run in the first off Gonzales. Randy Arozarena worked a lead-off walk to start the game. He later stole second, advanced to third on Cal Raleigh’s wayward throw on the play and scored on Ramirez’s game-changing hit.
Reliever Yohan Ramirez managed to keep Tampa’s lead to 1-0 in the first inning and gave Seattle a scoreless second and third inning despite constant traffic on the bases. The Rays finally got to him in the fourth. Taylor Walls singled with one out and Kevin Kiermaier sent a deep blast over the wall in right-center that made it 3-0. Seattle got a combined 4 2/3 scoreless innings of work from Matt Festa, Drew Steckenrider and Justus Sheffield in the loss.
The Mariners’ two runs came on solo homers against the Rays bullpen.
J.P. Crawford hit his third homer of the year in the seventh inning, sending a blast over the wall in right-center.
With two outs in the ninth inning, Abraham Toro hit a solo blast off the video board in right field off right-hander Andrew Kittredge to make it 3-2. But Julio Rodriguez flew out to center to end the game.