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Gonzaga University Athletics

In acquiring former Gonzaga lefty Marco Gonzales from Braves, Pirates adding familiar type of pitching help

Marco Gonzales, 31, went 4-1 with a 5.22 ERA in 10 starts for the Mariners last season.  (Tribune News Service)
By Jason Mackey Tribune News Service

The Pittsburgh Pirates found success with soft-tossing left-handed starting pitchers such as Tyler Anderson, Jose Quintana and Rich Hill. In need of help for 2024, the Pirates have gone back to a familiar well.

The Pirates acquired former Gonzaga standout Marco Gonzales earlier this week from the Atlanta Braves.

Gonzales, 31, fits the profile of the other three perfectly. He’s coming off a year where he went 4-1 with a 5.22 ERA in 10 starts for the Seattle Mariners, his season cut short due to issues with his left forearm. Gonzales went on the injured list with a left forearm strain on June 3 and had season-ending surgery to decompress a nerve on Aug. 13.

Gonzales was part of the trade on Monday that involved Jarred Kelenic and was presumed to be on the move again.

In nine major league seasons, Gonzales has gone 65-49 with a 4.14 ERA in 162 games (155 starts). He has averaged 2.4 walks and 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Gonzales throws his fastball in the upper 80s or low 90s and relies a lot on control. The southpaw’s changeup is also considered an above-average pitch.

Contract-wise, Gonzales is due to make $12 million in 2024, although the Mariners and Braves will be paying plenty to defray that cost. There’s also a club option for $15 million in 2025.

Gonzales started his career with the Cardinals, making his MLB debut in 2014, and he had Tommy John surgery in April 2016. St. Louis traded Gonzales to the Mariners for Tyler O’Neill on July 21, 2017, and he started for them on opening day in 2019.

That year, Gonzales made 34 starts and went 16-13 with a 3.99 ERA, striking out 147 in 203 innings. It was actually the first of three opening day starts for Gonzales, who went 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 11 starts in 2020, shining brightest during the pandemic-shortened season.

Strikeouts aren’t necessarily Gonzales’ thing. He thrives avoiding walks and forcing hitters to put the ball in play. In 2020, Gonzales averaged just .9 walks per nine innings, though that number jumped to 2.6 the next year and 3.2 in 2023.

Allowing home runs has also been a bit of a concern considering he gave up 29 in the 2021 season and 30 the following year. The Pirates will need to ensure that Gonzales, who also throws a curveball 24.2% of the time, stays out of the middle of the zone.

The fastball effectiveness was one of the biggest differences with Gonzales this past season. Although velocity was similar to what it had been in the past, Gonzales allowed a .333 batting average and .556 slugging percentage on the pitch.

Whether via deception or location, Gonzales has traditionally compensated for the lack of velocity on his heater well. Gonzales has also used a slider in the past, which could come into play with the Pirates. They’ve been heavy into slider usage and may feel that’s an untapped area they could improve.

In Pittsburgh, Gonzales won’t be counted upon to anchor the rotation or anything crazy. But he does have a history of gobbling up innings and should be able to do that if his forearm is indeed healed.

But after Johan Oviedo went down with Tommy John surgery, it created an even greater sense of urgency for the Pirates, leading them to a familiar type of pitcher.