For many fans, that was the first time they’d ever seen Tyler O’Neill in action, doing Tyler O’Neill things, and they liked it. Tyler O’Neill is very fun. He’s a very fun prospect to have in your system.
Marco Gonzales, a soft-tossing lefty, is not as overtly fun. As a pitcher, he doesn’t have dominant, big strikeout stuff. Marco does not have the same big personality as Tyler; he doesn’t hit towering dingers; his dad wasn’t Mr. Canada. Generally, this trade was reviewed with a capital-m Meh, especially after Gonzales posted a 5.06 FIP and suffered a heavy times-through-the-order penalty. Meanwhile, O’Neill continued to swat dingers on a championship Memphis Redbirds team and wring the hearts of Mariners fans.
Today, Marco Gonzales made his Spring Training debut, and it was fun. In two innings, he collected four strikeouts against the top hitters in the Dodgers lineup. He was razor-sharp in the first innings, best highlighted in this three-pitch sequence to Justin Turner:
The cutter is Marco’s new weapon, the pitch he’s able to work back in now that he’s fully recovered from TJ surgery. The curve is definitely the weak link here, with not too sharp a break, but by throwing it as a first pitch with two outs to a powerful righty bat in Turner, Gonzales took a calculated risk and it paid off. Marco was dominant in the first inning, working every batter into an 0-2 count before he started moving things around, and collecting two strikeouts. The second inning wasn’t quite as clean, with him falling behind his first two hitters, walking the leadoff man Matt Kemp, and throwing a wild pitch that advanced the runner to third, but he recovered well, coming back to strike out Joc Pederson looking on a breaking ball Zunino finessed into the zone and then striking out Andrew Toles on three pitches. It wasn’t a 400-foot dinger, but it was still pretty fun.
Verducci on radio broadcast talking about Gonzales' pitch mix "If the Cardinals have a scout here today they probably didn't recognize Marco Gonzales. They may have found something there in Gonzales finding a more effective way to pitch."— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) February 25, 2018
Pitching was the story of the day as six Mariners pitchers combined to hold the Dodgers to just two hits and no runs, collectively walking three and striking out nine. We got our first look at new acquisition Juan Nicasio, who worked around a leadoff double. Initial impression: he’s big, and throws hard. Sometimes baseball is that simple. Nicasio was followed by Edwin Díaz, who got two quick outs before losing his command slightly and walking Yasmani Grandal. On the broadcast they talked about Díaz flying open instead of coming closed to the plate, and you can see how that impacts the path of the ball here:
But Edwin was able to correct the flaw himself and came back to get Pederson to fly out harmlessly. That’s a credit to Díaz’s maturity and the hard work he put in over the off-season.
Rob Whalen came in to work the next two innings and looked unrecognizable from the pitcher who I once watched give up eight runs in three-plus innings for Tacoma. He recovered from a double and an error by Jean Segura to strand a runner at third by striking out Corey Seager and tallied three strikeouts, including this one of Justin Turner:
Chasen Bradford, picked up off waivers from the Mets, took the next two innings and allowed no hits and struck out one, working quickly and collecting four of his six outs via the groundball. Lefty Sam Moll closed things out to preserve the shutout.
Offensively, things were not as much fun. Nelson Cruz got creamed on the hand by a 93 mph fastball from Tom Koehler, in to replace Kershaw after one inning of work, and although he stayed in the game, most Mariner fans don’t know that, having already died. The HBPs can stop any time, guys. Kyle Seager singled (he went 2-2 on the day while Corey posted a goose egg so congratulations, everyone, we won the gene pool) and the Mariners had runners on first and third with no outs and then promptly ran themselves into outs on the bases. Hit by pitches and TOOTBLANs are my two least favorite baseball things, and these first few days of ST have been redolent with them. Gross. The Mariners would finally get a run after Ben Gamel tripled and came home on a wild pitch, and they got a second run playing some small ball after Large Adult Stepson, Mike Ford, led off the fifth with a double.
Thanks to the strong performance of the pitching staff, those two runs held up all game. For all the sturm und drang surrounding the Mariners’ pitching staff this off-season, it’s been rewarding to see the starters mostly looking sharp in their early outings, and interesting to plumb the depths of the bullpen. (Thanks to all the multi-inning relievers, we’re yet to see Phelps, Povse, Zep, Vincent, or Zych pitch, in addition to several NRIs, including AFL standouts Warren and Festa.) It’s been even cooler to see young players who were with the team last year but struggled at times, like Moore, Díaz, Whalen, Altavilla, and Gonzales, seemingly take a step forward. You could even say it’s been fun.