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Seattle Mariners

When he’s on the mound, Marco Gonzales gives Mariners a chance to win

Former Gonzazga Bulldogs star Marco Gonzales has already topped his career high in innings pitched this season for the Seattle Mariners. (Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)
By Stephen Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

ARLINGTON, Texas – Last season, Marco Gonzales had a breakout performance with the Seattle Mariners, going 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA with 145 strikeouts and 32 walks in a career-high 29 starts.

Gonzales’ 1.73 walks per nine innings in 2018 ranked fourth in the American League as he finished with a 2.5 WAR, also a career best.

But maybe the most impressive thing is that the Gonzaga product who pitched for the Bulldogs from 2011 to 2013 before becoming the highest draft pick in school history, 19th overall to St. Louis in 2013, missed time in 2018 due to a neck issue and still posted such impressive numbers.

This season has been a similar story for Gonzales, 27, who has remained healthy and recently made his AL-leading 29th start at Texas. With probably four more starts before the end of the season, he’s already set a career high in wins and innings pitched and will set another in starts the next time he takes the mound.

“Yeah, I guess it’s just really finding a routine that works for me. Unfortunately, I went through some injuries and I missed some time, but I think through that process I became really diligent about my work and the things I do every day to be healthy and just compete,” Gonzales said of the consistency he’s shown in 2018 and 2019. “I attribute it to that.”

Another thing to which he attributes his recent success with Seattle, who acquired him from St. Louis in a July 2017 trade, is that he’s adept at compartmentalizing each inning into its own mini game. It’s an approach that has allowed Gonzales to not get too amped up after a good inning or get too low after a tough frame, keeping more of an even keel every time he toes the rubber.

“That (being consistent) is the goal but I would say trying to not put that pressure on myself and just say go out there and give my best inning the next one,” he said. “Every inning is a reset for me in just trying to not do too much, trying to keep things simple and just look forward to the next inning.”

In his three seasons with the Zags, he was twice named Co-West Coast Conference Player of the Year, sharing the award with current Cubs slugger Kris Bryant as a freshman and as a junior.

The 2017 trade with the Cardinals that brought him to the Mariners has allowed him to spend the past few seasons pitching in front of many Gonzaga fans, a responsibility this ex-Zag never takes for granted or takes lightly.

“Yeah, just being able to represent not only the school but the people that work there that have helped me along the way and just the community around it. I think that I’m most proud to represent those people,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales’ consistency hasn’t only been noticed by fans and teammates. Seattle manager Scott Servais, a former big-league catcher, also likes what he’s seen from the former Bulldog in 2018 and thus far in 2019.

“Yeah, he was very consistent last year, but he has been (again this year),” Servais said. “He’s been our most consistent guy. We have a good idea every time he goes out there you’re going to be in the game, he gives you a good chance to win it. He’s been great. Couldn’t be any happier with where he’s at. Still think there’s room for improvement.”

Gonzales realizes that he remains a work-in-progress and with the season nearing an end, he already knows what his off-season focus will be as he begins preparing for 2020. “I always want to be stronger as an athlete,” he said. “I can always improve that. I’ve turned my attention towards nutrition, things off the field I can do better to just make myself a healthier person. That’s a big thing for me.”

Of course, this offseason might pale in comparison to last winter when he and his wife, Monica, took a much-anticipated trip to Italy.

“That was really special. We talk about it being the trip of our lifetime just because my wife studied abroad there in college and my family is predominantly from Italy, my mom’s side,” Gonzales said. “Being able to go and see some roots, explore, drink some good wine for a couple weeks, that was probably the best trip I’ll ever go on. It’s just kind of a reset button. It’s good.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.