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Observations from Marco Gonzales’ second start

The newly-acquired lefty made his second start for Tacoma this weekend

NLCS - St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Four
I am also bummed I don’t have any pictures of you in Seattle gear in the photo editor, Marco
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The trade deadline has come and gone and the Mariners, as expected, were relatively quiet. Swapping Steve Cishek for Erasmo Ramirez, acquiring David Phelps for a group of lower-level prospects, signing Danny Espinosa...these are not exactly the moves that make Ken Rosenthal’s bow tie spin around. It may be that Seattle’s biggest trade deadline move involved swapping two prospects, beloved Canadian slugger and human Tonka truck Tyler O’Neill for lefty Marco Gonzales from St. Louis. (If you would like a very basic introduction to Gonzales and his arsenal, Ethan and I wrote that up here.) Gonzales has now made two starts in the organization; John and I wrote up the first here. This weekend marked Gonzales’ second start as one of us, but may have been overshadowed by the fact that it was a weekend away start that overlapped slightly with the big club edging a victory out over the Mets. Since Gonzales projects to be a major part of the club moving forward, let’s examine his second outing with the club in more detail.

The big-picture takeaway from this second start is how consistent Gonzales is, for better or for worse. As he did in his first start as a Rainier, he went six innings and collected the win, giving up three earned runs (there would be two more unearned runs thanks to a Taylor Motter throwing error that allowed two runs to score, but we can talk about that later). There’s no velocity reader on the Oklahoma City broadcast and the announcers didn’t mention it so I don’t know where his velocity sat, but there was enough of a difference between his changeup and fastball that I think it’s safe to say the numbers were consistent with what we saw in his last time out.

The big difference in this outing was the number of walks he gave up: four, tying a season high. After looking sharp in the first inning, needing just 13 pitches (8 strikes) to retire the top of the order—including top Dodgers prospect Alex Verdugo—Gonzales’s command of his changeup deserted him some in the second. He began the inning trying to use the same pitch sequence to Willie Calhoun (who is no longer a Dodger) he’d used against Verdugo: starting with a fastball towards the outer edge to try to get a first pitch strike, then going low/away with a changeup, then returning to a high and tight fastball to try to jam him, then moving back across the plate, low and away. But while Gonzales was able to get Verdugo to reach for his fastball, he couldn’t tempt Calhoun with the changeup, trying again, and missing again for his first walk. He walked the next batter, Trayce Thompson, as well, missing all around the edges of the plate with his change, and found himself in an early jam with two on and none out. Gonzales returned to his fastball against Edwin Rios and was able to jam him on the inner edge to get a crucial double play, and then fought his way out of the jam by coming right at Todd Cunningham for a swinging strikeout to end the inning.

Swinging K of Cunningham to get out of a jam

But it took him 18 pitches to do that, and of those 18, only 8 were strikes.

Gonzales settled down after that, and cruised through his third and fourth innings, throwing as many pitches total in both of those as he needed in the second. He worked low in the zone, kept hitters off-balance, and got them to reach across the plate, inducing lots of weak contact. Something to keep an eye on is the fact that although Gonzales is known as a flyball pitcher, so far in the Mariners’ organization he’s recorded 18 groundouts to just 7 flyouts. Part of this is thanks to the weak contact he’s been able to generate so far; in Saturday’s start, there wasn’t a ball hit out of the infield until the fifth, when a weak grounder squeaked through for a base hit, and the Dodgers’ first hit of the game. Unfortunately, that fifth inning would cause him other problems.

Similar to his first start for Seattle, where Gonzales cruised along until hitting troubled waters in the sixth, Marco ran into some trouble in the fifth inning. And when I say “some trouble,” I mean in the same way the people at Woodstock did “some drugs.” After getting Thompson to pop up on the infield for the first out, Gonzales gave up the aforementioned seeing-eye single to Rios. He then struggled to command his changeup against Cunningham, whom he’d struck out earlier, and wound up hitting him with a pitch. The next batter was Bobby Wilson and Gonzales threw him four pitches that were nowhere near the zone to load up the bases with just one out. (In my notes I have written, PAINTER WHERE R U.) Charlie Culberson then made the first hard contact off Gonzales for the day with a two-run double that just missed being a grand slam (although it’s a pretty low fence out there at Chickasaw Whatever Ballpark; I’m pretty sure at Cheney or Safeco that’s just a double). Gonzales, ahead in the count 1-2, threw Culberson a belt-high fastball on the inside corner. It was not a good pitch.

But wait there’s more. He then walked Verdugo on five pitches to load the bases again, allowing five straight batters to reach. The next batter up was Scott Van Slyke (also not a Dodger anymore), and Gonzales threw him a high fastball to get a sac fly, trading the out for the run. Except Taylor Motter, who has really struggled defensively since moving back to shortstop full-time, threw the ball away trying to nail a runner tagging up, and two more runs scored. Tacoma, which had been enjoying a 7-0 lead, suddenly saw its lead cut to 7-5. Gonzales was able to retire the next batter on five pitches, although it was hard contact again; he sent O’Koyea Dickson a high fastball and Dickson tried to park it in the seats, but flew out to left fielder Ian Miller instead. It was a 33-pitch inning, all told, with just 17 strikes thrown by Gonzales.

At 82 pitches, I was surprised to see them bring Gonzales back out in the sixth. He was able to dispose of the first two batters he faced easily, on just four pitches, but struggled again to put Rios away, as he fouled off pitch after pitch before getting him to fly out—again, with some pretty hard contact. He’d finish his day with 94 pitches, 55 strikes, allowing the four walks to go with four strikeouts. Gonzales’s curve looks very similar to the change coming out of his hand, so without velocity readings and given the quality of MiLB footage it’s hard to tell what’s what, but it seemed to me like he threw the curve a lot less.

Overall, this was another solid start for Gonzales; he continues to battle out of tough situations and limit damage. But he has work to do in not getting into those tough situations in the first place, especially in limiting his walks and maintaining his command during those critical moments. The four-pitch walk to Wilson especially stands out, as none of those pitches were particularly close. As smart as Gonzales is, both in person and on the mound, situations like this belie his complicated developmental path. Last week, Divish seemed to indicate that Gonzales could move into the rotation as soon as early this month. They might not have a choice, but I hope he gets at least a little more time to adjust in Tacoma.