SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As he jogged to the mound and just before he started his first-inning warmup pitches, Marco Gonzales glanced over toward the first-base dugout of Salt River Fields — the home dugout of the Colorado Rockies.
There standing on the top step, clad in a black Rockies hoodie, stood the man who taught him how to throw a baseball with precision and accuracy as a child in Fort Collins, Colorado — his father, Frank, who is a pitching coach for the Rockies’ affiliate in Hartford.
There was no need for a wave or hand signals beyond a nod to each other. No reason to get nostalgic or sentimental, there was baseball to be played. In the Gonzales family, baseball means competition, which is met with intensity, focus and commitment to every moment, even in a meaningless spring training game.
Working on a limited pitch count and in just his second Cactus League start, Gonzales, delivered a crisp performance, offering a glimpse as to why he’s viewed as the team’s ace and opening-day starter for a third straight season.
Gonzales pitched four scoreless innings, allowing two hits with no walks and striking out five batters as the Mariners lost 2-1. Of the 14 batters he faced, he threw first-pitch strikes to 12.
“He likes to compete,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s a big part of our pitching staff and our clubhouse and what we’re trying to get accomplished here. He was locked in today.”
The only inning where Frank wasn’t on the top step of his son’s outing was in the second inning when he did an in-game interview with ROOT Sports.
“The intensity of watching your kid pitch as a former pitcher, you still kind of get that pregame jitters as a player,” he said on the broadcast. “And then you think, ‘I’m not pitching today, so what am I getting nervous for.’”
This isn’t the first time this has happened where Marco and Frank have been in opposing dugouts in a Cactus League game.
But it also happened May 4, 2010, when Marco was a senior standout at Rocky Mountain High School and Frank was in his first year as the head baseball coach of rival Fort Collins High School. On that day, Marco made the start against his dad’s team. He tossed a two-hit shutout, pitching six innings and striking out 14 of the 20 batters he faced.
“That day didn’t go too well for him either,” Marco said with a smirk. “He’s had some tough luck over there.”
Gonzales’ only real trouble came in the fourth inning when Jake Fraley got a slow read on a hard-hit fly ball to left field off the bat of Chris Owings. Fraley made an awkward diving attempt into the wall but couldn’t make the play, and it resulted in a leadoff triple with the heart of the Rockies order waiting.
But Gonzales didn’t flinch. He got Trevor Story to hit a shallow fly to right field that wasn’t deep enough for Owings to tag up. Gonzales got the ultra-dangerous Charlie Blackmon to pop out to first base for the second out. Gonzales closed out the inning with a perfectly placed fastball to freeze C.J. Cron for a called strike three.
“It’s always good to have that test,” he said. “Those are guys that I’ve faced quite a bit. They know me well. I know them well. So a lot of times it’s just who rises up and can compete in that moment. I was fortunate to come out on top. Those are great situations to be in at this point.”
Marco talks to Frank often during the season, still asking for advice and listening to his father’s critiques and comments. The plan was to meet up postgame and have some food and beverages to celebrate Frank’s birthday, which was Friday.
“I’m sure he’ll have plenty of critiques for me,” Gonzales said. “We’ll chop it up. But, truthfully, when we do get to sit down, it’s great, because a lot of times we don’t talk baseball. We talk about life stuff. We talk about family. You know baseball isn’t everything sometimes.”
Touted outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic could get approved to start doing on-field activity in the coming days. Servais said there will be a meeting to discuss and develop a plan to get Kelenic back into baseball activity and eventually back into Cactus League games.
“He’s chawing at the bit to try to get out on the field and get going,” Servais said. “We do want to be smart. We don’t want to rush him back and do too much too soon. But he is looking very good.”
Kelenic suffered a strain to the adductor muscle in his left leg a week ago while sprinting to first base.
Will that be enough time for Kelenic to play his way back into contention for a spot on the opening-day roster? The Mariners still have about two weeks’ worth of games before the Cactus League ends March 30.
Servais announced that lefty James Paxton will make his first start of the Cactus League on Monday vs. the Diamondbacks at the Peoria Sports Complex. Paxton has thrown in two simulated games instead of spring training games to build his pitch count.