SEATTLE -- At some point this season, the Mariners are going to have to worry about how many innings Marco Gonzales is racking up as he gets into uncharted territory in his workload. But that wasn't the concern on Friday as the 26-year-old breezed through his first complete game in a 4-1 win over the Royals at Safeco FIeld.
While Mitch Haniger and Mike Zunino supplied the offensive fireworks to help to extend Seattle's winning streak to five games, it was Gonzales drawing the rave reviews with his most-dominant performance yet in an outstanding season.
Gonzales improved to 8-5 with a 3.77 ERA with his 96-pitch gem and brought some extra emotion into this one after losing back-to-back games in New York and Boston.
"I take it back to the series we just played in Baltimore," he said. "Everyone was giving me [grief] because it was like my vacation. I didn't pitch there. Watching our guys sweep and just roll through that one, I was like, 'I need to do something.' I showed up today and definitely had some attitude."
With Houston losing at Tampa Bay, the Mariners moved back within 2 1/2 games of the Astros in the American League West at 52-31 as they opened a nine-game stand at Safeco Field. The 52 wins tied for third-most by Seattle in its first 83 games of a season behind only the 2001 and '03 clubs.
Gonzales joined James Paxton as the only Mariners to throw complete games this season with his sterling six-hit performance. His previous career-long was 7 1/3 innings earlier this month at Tampa Bay. He struck out seven and didn't walk a batter, with only two runners advancing past second base.
"It's a culmination of a lot of hard work this year and having the right guys behind me," Gonzales said. "Those guys played incredible defense behind me and when your team gives you a lead in the first half of the game, you inch closer to eyeing the end. From the first inning I just had the mentality that this is my game and I'm going to go as deep as I can."
Gonzales had trouble getting very deep into games last year after being acquired from the Cardinals in his first year off Tommy John surgery, posting a 5.40 ERA in 10 outings. But he's been a huge part of Seattle's success this year after opening the season as the fifth starter.
"He's matured, there's no question," manager Scott Servais said. "It always works better when guys earn it. He has a lot of confidence right now because everything that's happened this year, he's earned. From coming into Spring Training, winning a spot in our rotation, he continues to build throughout the season."
Gonzales has now thrown 100 1/3 innings as the season edges past the midway point, which is rapidly approaching his total of 126 1/3 last year between the Majors and Minors. His career high is 156 2/3 innings with the Cardinals' organization in 2014.
"It's something we've talked about already," Servais said. "As we come out of the All-Star break and have a chance to give our guys a little breather, he's going to be one of the guys we'll have to keep an eye on because he's going to be very valuable for us down the stretch."
The Mariners totaled only five hits, but Gonzales got all the offense he needed from a couple of prodigious long balls by Haniger and Zunino off Royals starter Ian Kennedy. Haniger launched a two-run shot to center field on the fourth, projected at 400 feet by Statcast™. The two RBIs put Haniger at 61 on the season, second in the Majors behind only Boston's J.D. Martinez at 64.
Zunino made it 3-0 with a projected 454-foot blast to the upper deck in left field in the fifth, the second-longest homer by a Mariner this season behind Nelson Cruz's 465-footer off the light tower in Fenway Park last week.
Kennedy (1-8, 5.11 ERA) gave up just three hits in five innings, but the two homers spoiled his night. The Royals have now lost 10 straight games started by Kennedy and fell to 25-56 overall.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Gonzales allowed only one baserunner past first base through his first eight innings, with Kansas City putting runners on the corners with one out in the fourth on a double by Rosell Herrera and an infield single by Mike Moustakas. But Gonzales ended that threat in a hurry by inducing Salvador Perez into a 6-4-3 double play on an 0-1 changeup to keep the game in a scoreless tie before Haniger got Seattle going with his homer in the bottom of that frame.
Gonzales gave up a leadoff single in the first to Whit Merrifield, but then picked Merrifield off after he'd been sacrificed to second by Rosell Herrera. It was Gonzales' sixth successful pickoff of the season, second in the Majors behind only the seven of Eric Lauer of the Padres.
"I take pride in controlling the running game and making it easy for [Zunino]," Gonzales said. "Before the game, we knew Merrifield was aggressive at second base. We had a plan going with it and we executed it right away. That was great."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Zunino's 454-foot blast got out in a hurry as his 116-mph exit velocity made it his hardest-hit homer since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015 and was tied for second-hardest by any Mariner in that period behind a 116.8-mph shot from Cruz in 2016. It was the third-longest homer hit at Safeco this season, behind a 459-foot blast by the Angels' Michael Trout off Ryan Cook on June 11 and a 455-footer by George Springer of the Astros off James Paxton on April 16. More >
HE SAID IT
"It's just great to be able to contribute to a team like this. You look at these guys and the way they're playing and the fun we've been having and I can't wait for my fifth day to come. So to be able to go out there and contribute in a positive way and have these guys rally behind you is pretty incredible. I'm very blessed." -- Gonzales
It's Turn Ahead the Clock Night at Safeco Field on Saturday as Felix Hernandez (7-6, 5.10 ERA) takes on Jason Hammel (2-9, 5.34) in a 7:10 p.m. PT start. Hernandez would just as soon look to continue his recent past, however, as he's gone 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA in five June starts in his best stretch this season. He's 6-6 with a 3.15 ERA in 15 career starts against the Royals, including a victory in Kansas City on April 10 when he allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings in an 8-3 win.