SEATTLE – The most recent pitcher to start a game for the Mariners during the interrupted 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 3⅓ innings, allowing an earned run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts. With two more Cactus League starts scheduled, the former Gonzaga standout 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 day of “summer camp” at T-Mobile.
“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 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 younger brother, Alex, 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 past 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,” Gonzales 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.”
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