Former Gonzaga University standout Marco Gonzales is scheduled to make his season debut Tuesday when the Mariners open a two-game interleague series in San Francisco.
The left-hander seems to be at full strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament that limited him to one major-league appearance in 2015 and kept him sidelined for all of 2016.
“It’s night and day different for me (from 2017),” Gonzales told the News Tribune, referring to his recovery a year ago while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. “It’s a beautiful thing to have a healthy arm and it’s a beautiful thing to have an opportunity like this. So I’m not taking anything for granted.
“The expectations I have for myself are high. Being able to execute pitches, I think I have a high standard for that and that’s something I would like to get better at. But as far as my arm health, I couldn’t feel better about that. That’s been great. It’s just finding a routine that works for me and just learning from every outing.”
Gonzales had a strong spring, going 1-1 with a 2.08 in seven starts in the Cactus League. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits and struck out 21, with opponents batting .234 against him.
“That’s what we anticipated when we acquired him,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters. “We knew that last year was his first full year and now it’s his second full year off (surgery), and now he’s got all of his weapons and he’s attacking hitters a little differently than we saw last year.”
Gonzales isn’t the only former Zag to be getting some attention in the Mariners’ system.
MLB.com came out with a list of the biggest breakout prospect for each AL West team Monday.
Its Seattle selection is familiar to Spokane fans.
Reliever Wyatt Mills (Gonzaga Prep), who had a 1.79 ERA and 12 saves last season as a senior at GU and is second in Zags history with 21 saves, got the nod.
The Mariners selected Mills in the third round of the amateur draft last June and he split his season between the Northwest League’s Everett AquaSox and Class A Clinton of the Midwest League.
He went a combined 0-2 with a 1.77 ERA in his first pro season, with six saves. In 20 1/3 innings, he allowed just eight hits and struck out 29. Opponents batted .114 against him.
MLB.com has Mills listed No. 10 on the list of the Mariners’ top 30 prospects.
The story called him a “side-armed right-hander with two above-average pitches, Mills pairs a low-90s fastball that touches 95 mph with a tight slider. The combination makes him highly effective against same-sided hitters, and he’s already impressed Mariners club officials with his ability to throw strikes from his unique slot.”
Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter told MLB.com: “Mills is a kid we talked about in our top five rounds. He reminds me of Joe Smith and Steve Cishek. A guy with a unique arm slot, and the ability to throw as many strikes as he does … From the angle he’s doing it from, he could be a quick mover (up the system), if he keeps doing the same things.”