Gonzales' rough stretch extended by Yanks

August 2nd, 2022

NEW YORK -- Scott Servais made it no secret that his bullpen was going to be super thin on the heels of a demanding weekend in Houston, saying that the Mariners’ path to a victory on Monday night at Yankee Stadium would hinge heavily on Marco Gonzales being efficient and effective.

Yet by the seventh pitch of the game, Seattle fell into a hole that it couldn’t climb out of in an eventual 7-2 loss, the Mariners’ fourth in five games on what is, objectively, their most challenging road trip of the season.

Gonzales gave up a leadoff single to DJ LeMahieu, a double off the wall on the next pitch to Aaron Judge and then a Statcast-projected 428-foot homer to Anthony Rizzo. Later, Gonzales also gave up homers to Judge in the second -- the staggering 43rd of the season from the AL MVP favorite -- and to Jose Trevino in the fourth, as the three deep flies accounted for the season-high six earned runs.

Add in the absences of the Mariners’ two best hitters -- Ty France and Julio Rodríguez are nursing wrist injuries -- and it was a recipe for being too tall a task to overcome.

“I felt like they took advantage of some pitches, some mistakes early,” Gonzales said. “They certainly jumped on us in the strike zone. And I thought we just caught too much plate in the early goings there. ... I tip my hat. They took advantage of some mistakes early.”

Gonzales, who for years has been a beacon of consistency, has now given up at least five runs in three of his past four starts, marking the first such stretch since May-June 2019. In this current run, opponents have a slash line of .337/.374/.622 (.996 OPS) against him.

Is there something specific going on here?

“He's got to get into secondary pitches right out of the chute,” Servais said. “Those are his best pitches, and I think everybody knows that. The fastball you can use to set up as you go through it, but he wasn't able to get there tonight.”

Each of the three hits in the fateful first inning was against Gonzales’ four-seamer, with the daggers from Judge and Rizzo both middle-middle. They were also early in counts from an aggressive team ready to swing. Later, Judge’s homer was on a cutter middle-in, a quadrant where the slugger now has an MLB-high 13 barreled balls, and it followed a costly walk to LeMahieu.

Gonzales recognized the issues and had a better pitch mix as the game progressed, most notably with a strikeout of Judge in the fourth, when he turned exclusively to offspeed. Yet, by that point, he was mostly just eating innings. He finished two outs shy of completing the sixth after deflecting a would-be double-play ball that turned into a single by LeMahieu. At that point, Servais turned to his bullpen.

“You really have to execute or be very fine on the edges with your fastball,” Servais said. “And we weren't able to do that. So a combination of execution, decision-making there early on kind of got us.”

Gonzales has long been able to make necessary adjustments, both in-game and throughout a season. His pitching profile shows as much, having gone from the curveball-heavy specialist in 2017-18 to unearthing masterful success with a cutter in 2019-20. This year, early on, the changeup was a plus weapon, yet even that offering has been getting hit more regularly.

Opposing hitters have had much more success against Gonzales' changeup as the season has progressed.

For an adjustment-aware pitcher, has he noticed teams adjusting back?

“We're just reading what they're giving us throughout the game,” Gonzales said. “It doesn't change what we do. We're still being aggressive in the zone early, and that's something I've always done well is just fill up the strike zone early as best I can. So you can't really get away from that, because you start walking guys and you lose that aggression. So I'm just trying to remain calm, stay within myself, keep making pitches.”

Before this stretch, Gonzales had given up five earned runs in a start just once in 2022. Perhaps this is a blip in the grand scheme of a long season. But as the Mariners eye the final two months, they’ll need their rotation stalwart to avoid outings like Monday.