Gonzales avoids worst after liner hits wrist

Southpaw leaves game in first but hopes to make his next start Monday

April 28th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mariners avoided a significant injury Wednesday when left-hander  was hit on his pitching arm by a 109 mph comebacker during the first inning of his start at Tropicana Field. Gonzales was diagnosed with a left wrist contusion, and X-rays were negative, the team announced following its 3-2 loss to the Rays.

Gonzales and the Mariners will take the next four days to determine if he’ll be able to make his next scheduled start on Monday in Houston, which is his intent.

“That's not even a thought in my mind, missing the next start,” Gonzales said. “I’ll come with the intention to come and play catch tomorrow and see how it feels. And just like I said, take it day by day, hoping to knock out some swelling and go from there.”

The line drive off the bat of Harold Ramirez clipped the lefty just below his wrist bone on the outside of his hand. Had it gone a hairline in another direction, it could’ve been a far more severe situation. There is pronounced swelling in the area, and the Mariners almost certainly won’t send him out again Monday if there is lingering inflammation.

“I think Marco is probably going to be OK,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It's going to be a while. We’ll have to wait and see how he feels over the next couple of days. ... I think we're very lucky there, but obviously, he's going to have some swelling and be very sore.”

After lying on the mound momentarily, then conferring with Servais and an athletic trainer, Gonzales exited after just 11 pitches. After he gathered himself, the veteran departed in visible frustration. Gonzales lobbied to make a few pitches before Servais made a final decision, but Seattle opted for extreme caution.

“It's probably not the best,” Servais said. “We have a lot of baseball ahead of us, and he's such a big part of what we do and a stabilizer within our rotation. We're in April.”

So Gonzales will be day to day in every sense. The schedule doesn’t play in the Mariners’ favor, either, given that Wednesday was the second in a 16-game stretch with no off-days.

Gonzales was relieved by righty Yohan Ramirez, who threw 49 pitches over a career-high-tying three innings that proved vital on a night that suddenly became a bullpen game. Matthew Festa, Drew Steckenrider and Justus Sheffield followed to take Seattle to the finish line, which was a by-design group.

Sheffield, a former starter, seemed like the logical choice to take on the bulk of the innings, but the Mariners instead opted to spread the workload in a tight game.

“There are different ways of looking at it,” Servais said. “You’re still in the game early. When something like that happens, there are ‘X’ amount of players that are going to pitch tonight. It’s just a matter of how you want to use them. ... It’s just trying to put them in the right pockets and give yourself a chance, which we did.”

The Mariners’ bats had a mini rally late via solo homers from J.P. Crawford in the seventh and Abraham Toro in the ninth. But they couldn’t overcome the start by the Rays’ Drew Rasmussen, who generated 19 whiffs and had nine strikeouts, and they scored their fewest runs since they were shut out by Houston on April 16.

Gonzales missed five weeks last year beginning April 29 when he suffered a left forearm strain. In his absence, Seattle deployed bullpen games to shoulder the load and had a losing record in those outings. It’s highly unlikely that they’d opt for a similar strategy if Gonzales misses time.

Top pitching prospects George Kirby (Seattle’s No. 3, per MLB Pipeline) and Levi Stoudt (No. 7) were both in big league Spring Training this year, are impressing at Double-A Arkansas and have been touted by the front office as being contributors in 2022. They’d be in the mix for a vacated rotation spot, if it were to come to that.

Kirby has thrown five innings in each of his past three starts, most recently on Tuesday. He has a 1.83 ERA in that stretch and a 33.8 percent strikeout rate with just 13 hits allowed to 74 batters. He lost the battle for the Mariners’ No. 5 rotation spot to Matt Brash, though that was more a byproduct of having thrown fewer innings than Brash in 2021.

Stoudt was also hit by a comebacker on Wednesday, off the back of his left leg, but he remained in the game and completed four innings. He has a 4.05 ERA in four outings, ballooned by five earned runs in four frames on Wednesday.