PEORIA, Ariz. -- Marco Gonzales was the Mariners' most effective starter for much of last season, so it was fitting that the 27-year-old found himself in the first group of hurlers to take the mound for bullpen sessions on Tuesday at the Peoria Sports Complex."I'm excited," Gonzales said. "I'm really
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Marco Gonzales was the Mariners' most effective starter for much of last season, so it was fitting that the 27-year-old found himself in the first group of hurlers to take the mound for bullpen sessions on Tuesday at the Peoria Sports Complex.
"I'm excited," Gonzales said. "I'm really hopeful and energized by the vibe we've got going here. We've got a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces, and I'm anxious to how we line up and how these guys come and how prepared everybody is and see everybody go to work."
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With James Paxton traded to the Yankees, Gonzales has a chance to emerge as the No. 1 pitcher for the Mariners this spring after going 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 29 starts last season, his first full year in the Majors. But he said he's just trying to do his part, and that began with Tuesday's mound session, which is the first step in getting prepared for Cactus League games starting Feb. 21.
"I thought his fastball command was really good, which is the first thing you look for in Spring Training, controlling the fastball and then the breaking balls kind of come around," said catcher David Freitas, who worked with Gonzales in his 30-pitch session. "But all his stuff looked really good. His changeup actually looked like it did last year during the season."
Plenty of pitching to watch early
Veteran Wade LeBlanc and new prospects Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson were among the nine other pitchers who threw off the mound Tuesday, with hard-throwing Gerson Bautista impressing in his debut, as well.
Japanese free-agent Yusei Kikuchi, veteran starter Mike Leake and new acquisition Justin Dunn are among the 11 pitchers who'll throw bullpen sessions on Wednesday at about 10:40 a.m. PT on the Mariners' back field, with Félix Hernández and closer candidate Hunter Strickland headlining Thursday's final grouping.
Pitchers will throw every three days as they work up to live batting practice and then game action.
Swarzak ahead of schedule in shoulder rehab
Though Anthony Swarzak will be limited in his throwing early in camp, the veteran reliever was on the field with the rest of the Mariners' pitchers on Tuesday. He says he's ahead of schedule in his return from offseason shoulder soreness.
The 33-year-old was one of five players acquired from the Mets in the Robinson Canó/Edwin Díaz trade in December and could be a contender for a late-inning relief role if he can get past some shoulder inflammation that nagged him since last August.
Swarzak felt discomfort again about six weeks ago when he started ramping up his offseason throwing program, which raised red flags. But he's been pleasantly surprised by his improvement since coming to Peoria to work with the Mariners' training staff.
"I feel like things are progressing pretty quickly right now and in the right direction," Swarzak said. "It was a question mark about six weeks ago, if I was going to be where I'm at now. I am just happy with the progress over the past few weeks and we're going to keep building and getting stronger as we go."
While Swarzak is limited to playing light catch for now, he's optimistic of being ready by the time the regular season begins in late March.
"It's a long season, but I'm trying to do everything I can to be the guy Day 1," he said. "That's what we all want to do and I'm going to continue to do that. When that day comes, somebody else will make the decision if I'm ready or not. But I'm giving the Seattle Mariners and their fans everything I have every day to get ready."
The only other pitcher being held back is reliever Sam Tuivailala, who is targeted for a midseason return from right Achilles surgery.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.