Gonzales impresses in ST family affair

With father, Frank, in opposing dugout, southpaw K's five in OD tuneup

March 14th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For most pitchers, the presence of their father in the opposing dugout would naturally evoke added jitters. But for those closest to Marco Gonzales, even with his dad watching intently from the Rockies’ bench Saturday, the intensity that Gonzales brought to a Cactus League game was akin to his demeanor for any start, whether it be a simulated game on a backfield or in front of a sold-out crowd in the postseason.

Frank Gonzales, Marco’s dad and pitching coach for Colorado’s Double-A affiliate, knows best.

“I think the intensity and routine he has as a pitcher and professional has upgraded since I’ve known him as a youngster,” Frank Gonzales said. “I think he would appreciate that; how he prepares the night before, three days before, the bullpen, the side [sessions], shaping pitches and understanding what he can do and control in the game and understanding hitters and how they’re reacting. I think that’s a big part of who he is. It’s really intense.”

It wasn’t always that way for Marco, however, Frank says. As an amateur growing up in hitter-friendly, high-altitude Colorado while embarking on Minor League circuits with his dad, baseball was laughs and fun.

It remained that way during a three-year run at Gonzaga, where Gonzales was a two-way player, hitting .311/.382/.402 in 500 plate appearances. He was good enough to be a first-round Draft pick by the Cardinals in 2013 as a pitcher. The turning point, in Dad’s eyes, was Marco’s Tommy John surgery in '16.

Even Marco admits that he became far more deliberate after the elbow procedure. Health, he says, is the most paramount factor to how he’s blossomed into one of the American League’s most productive left-handed starters. He’s rigorously motivated to make every start, and his determination in his durability is part of why he’s shown pause to the Mariners deploying a six-man rotation.

“Honestly, after Tommy John, a lot of certainty in trying to figure out, ‘Who do I need to become? How am I going to attack my career? What's my routine? What am I going to do three days before? The night of? The night before?’” Frank said of Marco’s mental development. “And I think he’s embraced that. He’s stuck with it. And he’s not going to leave it.”

Saturday was a trademark Gonzales outing when he’s at his best, one that alluded that he’s well on his way to being ready for his third straight Opening Day start.

His sinker sat at 88 mph, he generated whiffs in and around the strike zone and his secondary pitches were all polished. Gonzales struck out five, including three on his sinker, one on his cutter and an impressive breaking ball to Garrett Hampson. He also overcame a leadoff triple in his fourth and final inning to retire Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon and C.J. Cron -- the heart of Colorado’s “A” lineup -- in order.

Cliché intended -- Gonzales looked like he was in midseason form. Which begs the question: What’s next for Seattle’s No. 1 starter, its unquestioned leader on the field and club ambassador off of it?

Gonzales is one of just three players left from the 2018 team before general manager Jerry Dipoto’s “stepback” that led to the multi-year rebuild that the club is looking to emerge from in the coming seasons. He was far from a leader back then, when he was a 26-year-old on the AL’s oldest roster. But his production since -- the Mariners have gone 24-21 with him on the mound since '19 and 71-106 with everyone else -- and his tenure, going on five seasons in Seattle, has enhanced his credibility.

No one can speak better to that than James Paxton, whose November 2018 trade to the Yankees essentially launched the aforementioned “stepback.” Big Maple said that he saw a much more confident Gonzales from afar, and Gonzales was one of the key figures in lobbying him back to Seattle.

“He's fantastic. He's a great leader. He’s done a great job with that,” Paxton said. “And his pitching, I mean, he's just so much more confident now. You can see it. And he knows exactly what he's doing out there. He knows who he is. He knows what he needs to do, and I'm loving just watching him pitch right now.”

When discussing his goals for 2021, Gonzales is ambiguous. He’d like to improve on his “command and conviction in his pitches,” he says, “and my consistency between starts.” Frank says that those comments are genuine, and that Marco doesn’t consider mainstream attention, though his numbers suggest that his first All-Star selection might be in the making.

Gonzales has shown that he will likely continue to get better on the mound. And this year, he’ll be much stronger -- fueled by “girl dad” muscle. Gonzales and his wife, Monica, recently announced that they will be expecting their first-born this summer.

“He’s been saying that quite a bit lately,” Frank said. “Gosh, we're just so excited and can't wait. The whole family, it’s just a blessing to experience this. And to do it in baseball, it’s just kind of cool.”

For all these reasons -- intensity, leadership, motivation and fatherhood -- Seattle’s top starting pitcher will only continue to grow.