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Gonzales hits restart, looks to contribute

Shoulder feels strong after injury-hampered season spent mostly in Minors
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Marco Gonzales may have even more to prove this spring than he did a year ago, when the lefty arrived at Spring Training vying for a place in the Major League rotation. Now, he has to pitch himself back into the conversation.

That's not to say the Cardinals have forgotten about Gonzales, the 23-year-old lefty who ranks third on their top prospect list. Until the club courted Mike Leake in December, Gonzales was expected to get another shot to compete for a big-league rotation job along with fellow lefties Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney.

ST. LOUIS -- Marco Gonzales may have even more to prove this spring than he did a year ago, when the lefty arrived at Spring Training vying for a place in the Major League rotation. Now, he has to pitch himself back into the conversation.

That's not to say the Cardinals have forgotten about Gonzales, the 23-year-old lefty who ranks third on their top prospect list. Until the club courted Mike Leake in December, Gonzales was expected to get another shot to compete for a big-league rotation job along with fellow lefties Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney.

But to have any role in St. Louis, Gonzales first has to show himself healthy and having matured from the injury issues that interrupted what he had hoped was to be a breakout 2015. Instead, he watched much of it pass by while he navigated through a rehab program.

"Maybe I just needed to be served some humble pie last year," Gonzales said. "I've learned a lot of lessons and I can do nothing but be thankful for my journey so far."

That journey, of course, included an accelerated climb to the Majors in 2014, with Gonzales making his Major League debut just 12 months after being plucked by the Cardinals in the first round of the Draft. He made 10 regular-season appearances that year, as well as another six in the postseason, all of that positioning him to be a key contributor in 2015.

Video: NYM@STL: Gonzales talks about his start vs. the Mets

Even after being sent to Triple-A to open the season, Gonzales expected to be back in the Majors soon. The Cardinals viewed him as their ready sixth starter.

And yet, his big-league contributions were entirely inconsequential -- one start, 2 2/3 innings, seven hits and four runs allowed.

"I've already hit the restart button," Gonzales said as he reflected on the tumultuous year. "That disappointment kind of turned into my work ethic this offseason and turning that into me being healthy."

Gonzales described his offseason workouts as a lot of running and "metabolic stuff." After spending much of the season strengthening his shoulder, Gonzales zeroed in on getting into optimal shape.

He then started a throwing program in early-to-mid December and returned to the mound for the first time two weeks ago. The shoulder impingement that limited him to 83 1/3 innings and kept him from strong consideration for a postseason roster spot in 2015 is no longer compromised.

"It's the first time in a long time I've thrown and not thought about anything besides where the ball is going," Gonzales said. "Doing that carefree is amazing."

With his shoulder strengthened and his mind clear, Gonzales can pitch himself back into the big-league mix this spring. While there's not an obvious spot for him in the rotation, he will be jockeying for position on the depth chart. The Cardinals will also consider their three young, lefty starters -- Gonzales, Cooney and Lyons -- for possible bullpen inclusion.

Whatever the role, Gonzales is just eager for the fresh start.

"For me, I had to learn a lot of lessons last year," Gonzales said. "I learned a lot about my body and the way my shoulder works and the work I need to put in to move forward and be healthy. This offseason has been so productive for me. I'm just unbelievably ready for Spring Training. Everything's healthy, and I'm ready to compete."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

St. Louis Cardinals, Marco Gonzales