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Seattle Mariners

‘Crafty lefty’: Seattle Mariners veteran starter Marco Gonzales succeeds through reliability, control

PEORIA, Ariz. – Marco Gonzales just turned 31 in February, so he is hardly an old man. But the Seattle Mariners left-hander is entering his ninth big league season, making him one of the elder statesman of a strong rotation and pitching staff.

“Not a lot of guys these days are fortunate enough to pitch the bulk of their career with one team,” Gonzales said at the team’s training complex in Peoria, Arizona, last week. “It says that this team has confidence in me to go out and do what I can do, that I’m reliable and hopefully that I’m a good ‘glue guy’ for this team. Those are the things I pride myself on. I hope the organization continues to see that in me.”

Gonzales was a mainstay in the rotation last season. He made 32 starts and tossed 183 innings – the second most of his career. He went 10-15 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.333 WHIP, helping the Mariners break a 20-year streak of missing the playoffs.

“We had a great season, even better team,” Gonzales said. “Better chemistry in the clubhouse than we’ve ever had. Building that momentum, bringing it into this year, realizing that it’s a fresh season, but we need to carry over some momentum, some energy, has been really fun. Guys are hungrier than ever.”

Despite his consistency during the regular season last year, Gonzales was left off the team’s postseason roster.

“A disappointment, yes,” he said. “Not being able to contribute was tough. I’m hoping that it’s something that can kind of launch me into being a better player, better pitcher. Learn from it. I feel like I’m stronger from it physically and mentally. I’m just ready to prove to people I’m still an impact starter in this league and on this team.”

It was a bit of a weird camp for the veteran hurler. Gonzales appeared in just one “A” game during spring training, on March 4, so he didn’t see any further game action heading into his season-opening start on Sunday.

“It’s been a minute,” since he pitched, he said.

It wasn’t by design. Gonzales had one start rained out, one got pushed back and he made several appearances in “B” games and intersquad scrimmages. He got his work in and he said he was ready to go.

“I’ve done this a long time,” he said. “For me, it’s about getting my pitch count up, getting my work in, how my body feels.

“Ideally, I’d get more game action, but at this point in my career I guess it’s not vital. I’ve been calling myself the ‘backfield bandit,’ just stealing some innings on the backfields. But I’ve been really fortunate that we’ve been putting together things for me to get my work in.”

Gonzales’ goals are simple for the season.

“It starts with being healthy. Being available, making every start,” he said. “I pride myself on being able to go out and take the ball when I’m called and go out and give us a chance to win. That starts with being healthy and taking pride in the work I do between starts.

“It’s very process-oriented. For me, the results are going to be what they are. I’m always wanting to win like that, but my process needed to be good. So that’s a goal of mine.”

The Mariners’ rotation, like the rest of MLB, is full of guys throwing upper 90s with wicked sliders and change-ups speedier than Gonzales’ fastball. He is what’s known in the business as a “crafty lefty.”

“I love it. The ‘crafty lefty’ – everybody needs one. We’re a dying breed,” he said. “To come out here and compete with these guys and to do it for as long as I have… I’m very proud to be at this point in my career.”

His objective is to throw strikes, change speeds and keep the ball on the ground.

“I think it’s a sense of pride that I have to be able to pitch with some of these guys – even the guys in our rotation. I mean, everyone’s 95-plus (mph) and has nasty wipe-out stuff. I do things a little bit differently,” Gonzales said.

“Sometimes it’s a tightrope to walk to face big league hitters. But I don’t think there’s many guys that can pitch in the big leagues with 89 (mph). To be able to be kind of an artist out there and throw darts and be pinpoint when I’m on, it’s really fun. But it is a tightrope at times. I’m just trying to be the best I can be – hitting spots, changing speeds and pitching.”

Gonzales went to high school in Colorado where he started – and won – the State 5A championship for Rocky Mountain in all four years of his high school career. He was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the in the 29th round of the 2010 MLB draft but opted not to sign and made his way to Spokane to play at Gonzaga.

Gonzales enjoyed a stellar career for Gonzaga. He was named an All-American, won two West Coach Conference Player of the Year trophies and a John Olerud award as the country’s best two-way player. After college, he was drafted No. 19 overall by the St. Louis Cardinals and quickly became one of the first in a wave of Zags pitchers to make an impact at the big league level.

The latest of that group, Gabriel Hughes, was the No. 10 overall pick in last year’s draft by the Rockies. Gonzales hasn’t met Hughes, but the two have spoken.

“We’ve texted, been in communication a little bit,” Gonzales said. “He’s reached out and kind of picked my brain on some things. I know what he’s done very well. I had guys that helped me when I was there. So it’s an honor to give back. Be able to give insight. It’s a privilege to go know that college kids that want to play baseball are asking me for my help.”

But Gonzales doesn’t just have baseball on his mind these days. His wife, Monica, is expecting their second child in a matter of weeks.

“My wife and my girls, they’re my everything,” he said. “I have a newfound perspective on life after becoming a dad. It puts (baseball) into perspective. I’m just trying to enjoy it the best I can.”