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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

MLB Locals: Seattle’s Marco Gonzales, Tampa Bay’s Drew Rasmussen highlight group of standout pitchers

Seattle Mariners' Marco Gonzales throws during a Spring training game in Peoria, Arizona.  (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times)
By Taylor Newquist The Spokesman-Review

Dust off the diamonds, it’s time for former area standouts to star in the big show.

Opening Day for Major League Baseball is Thursday, and a group of pitchers with local connections will be back in uniform.

The most tenured is the Seattle Mariners’ Marco Gonzales, who will start Seattle’s home series finale against Cleveland on Sunday at T-Mobile Park.

Gonzales, 31, enters his ninth MLB season and seventh in Seattle. He will be the Mariners’ fourth starter in a rotation that had the third-most quality starts (79) in the majors last season and contributed to a team earned run average of 3.59 – seventh-best in MLB.

Gonzales, however, was the weakest among Seattle starters. His 4.13 ERA and 10-15 record were career-worst since becoming a regular starter in 2018. In turn, he was left off the Mariners’ playoff roster in the team’s first post-season in over two decades.

That stuck with Gonzales. And while he understood the decision, it sparked some motivation in the veteran left hander.

“I’ve thought about that moment since the moment I got here – what would it be like to pitch the playoffs,” Gonzales told the Seattle Times this spring. “So not getting that chance, it hurts, it stings. It led to a lot a lot of dark days this offseason.”

Gonzales lost 15 pounds leading into spring camp. He started two games in the Cactus League, allowing four runs in 5⅔ innings.

Gonzales has two years remaining on his 4-year, $30 million contract.

Tampa Bay pitcher Drew Rasmussen, a Mt. Spokane graduate, looks out from the bullpen last season.  (Tribune News Service)
Tampa Bay pitcher Drew Rasmussen, a Mt. Spokane graduate, looks out from the bullpen last season. (Tribune News Service)

• Spokane high school alums and MLB teammates Drew Rasmussen (Mt. Spokane) and Andrew Kittredge (Ferris) know about adversity.

Kittredge, a reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays, can ask Rasmussen how to handle his latest setback. Kittredge, a 2021 All-Star, will start the season on the 60-day injured list after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June.

The right-hander pitched in 17 games last season before going out with the elbow injury. He’ll hope to replicate Rasmussen’s success when he returns.

Rasmussen has had two Tommy John surgeries, but is at the top of his game. Last year he flirted with perfection, had one of baseball’s best ERAs and was named American League pitcher of the month in August. He threw 146 innings with an 11-7 record, 2.84 ERA, 125 strikeouts and 31 walks.

Rasmussen pitched eight perfect innings during a game against the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 14. He allowed a double in ninth inning to break up his bid at history.

Rasmussen will be featured in the middle of the Rays’ rotation as their top right-hander opening the season, beside lefties Shane McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs .

Rasmussen is under a pre-arbitration contract. Kittredge is on a 1-year $2 million deal.

Ian Hamilton (Washington State) may have found stability. New York Yankees executive Brian Cashman has said Hamilton isn’t “going anywhere,” implying he’s at least landed a spot on the 40-man roster.

Hamilton is competing for the Yankees’ last bullpen spot. The deadline to submit final rosters is Thursday.

Hamilton had a stellar spring with New York, going seven Grapefruit League appearances without allowing a run.

Hamilton has bounced between the minors and majors for several years. His career derailed in 2019 when he was struck in the head by a foul ball while playing for the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte. Hamilton underwent eight surgeries over next two years to repair the damage to his mouth and jaw.

“Fake teeth were coming out when I was drinking water,” He told the New York Post. “I was constantly clenching my jaw so nothing (would fall out).”

Hamilton, 27, spent most of last year in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. He signed a minor league deal with the Yankees in February.

• Cleveland Guardians reliever Eli Morgan (Gonzaga University) followed up a breakout season with a shaky spring.

Morgan was dominant for stretches of 2022, making 14 appearances without an earned run from May to June and allowing one run in 11 appearances from September to October.

Morgan had a 5-3 record with 3.38 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 13 walks in 66⅔ innings of relief last season.

Cleveland will hope this spring doesn’t signal regression. Morgan allowed eight runs in eight innings in the Cactus League.

He’ll be called on often from the bullpen, as the Guardians aim to defend their AL Central title.

Morgan is also on a pre-arbitration contract.

Non-rostered players

• Gonzaga University and Gonzaga Prep graduate Wyatt Mills has been on the move and won’t make the Boston Red Sox’s Opening Day bullpen.

Mills was shut down in spring training with elbow inflammation.

Mills, 27, was traded from the Mariners to the Kansas City Royals last season and then dealt to Boston in December. He pitched in five Grapefruit League games this spring, allowing five runs in six innings with 10 strikeouts and five walks.

Mills has played two MLB seasons and has a 6.21 ERA in 38 appearances.

• Gonzaga’s Taylor Jones will start the season in the minors, likely with the Los Angeles Angels’ Triple-A affiliate.

Jones, an outfielder and first baseman, fell out of favor with the Houston Astros after playing 35 games in the 2021 season.

He signed a minor-league deal with L.A. in January and batted .244 with five RBIs in 21 Cactus League games.