Gonzalez settles in, but rough 1st costly
Opposing M's Iwakuma, Rangers rookie digs early hole
ARLINGTON -- Rangers starter Chi Chi Gonzalez didn't have much margin for error opposing Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma on Tuesday.
He was already behind in the first inning after giving up a pair of one-out doubles to Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz. Then he struck out Robinson Cano, leaving him one more out needed to escape further damage.
With first base open, the right-handed Gonzalez had a choice of going after either Seth Smith, a left-handed hitter with some power, or Austin Jackson, a right-handed hitter who is not a home run threat.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux talks about it often in Spring Training: knowing where the outs are in the opposing lineup.
Gonzalez decided to go after Smith and it cost him in a 3-2 loss to the Mariners on Tuesday night.
"I just wanted to attack him," Gonzalez said. "It's early in the game, I'm not trying to walk him."
Gonzalez began the at-bat by throwing two fastballs. Smith took one for a ball and fouled the other off. Gonzalez then threw two straight changeups, a pitch he had thrown just 10 percent of the time in his previous starts. The first one was a ball.
"I thought back-to-back changeups would be good," Gonzalez saus. "I just hung it."
Smith jumped on the 2-1 changeup and hit it over the right-field wall for a two-run home run that gave the Mariners a 3-0 lead. On night when the Rangers were facing Iwakuma, that ultimately proved insurmountable.
"I was trying to get it low and out, down low, get soft contact," Gonzalez said. "I just left it up."
Manager Jeff Banister said he did not want Gonzalez pitching around Smith, but perhaps be smarter about how he approached the at-bat.
"It's a situation where being aware of the lineup, where the lineup's at, who's on deck, what the situation is," Banister said. "I think as he progresses he's going to learn that, understand that, so no, I don't think he should have pitched around him. I just think that again it comes down to what is your intent and the conviction, you've got to be able to execute pitches at that point."
The one bad inning cost Gonzalez, but he recovered by throwing five scoreless after that. On most nights, that could easily have resulted in a win, but not Tuesday facing Iwakuma, who followed last week's no-hiter against the Orioles with seven innings of two-run, five-hit dominance. Still, he impressed Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon.
"Gonzalez was impressive," McClendon said. "I know we got three in the first, but he knows how to pitch. I was impressed with what I saw tonight."
After the game, the Rangers announced that Gonzalez was being optioned to Triple-A. The move was expected as the Rangers have to make room for Derek Holland, who is coming off the disabled list and starting Wednesday.
"I still like the way Chi Chi continues to compete," Banister said. "We saw it from when he came up the first time. He tries to make pitches, doesn't get rattled and stays focused. He'll continue to get better and continue to compete."