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Gonzales becoming accustomed to openers

After throwing Mariners' first pitch of 2019, lefty to face Boston
@gregjohnsmlb
March 26, 2019

SEATTLE -- It’s not exactly old hand yet, but Marco Gonzales understands the added responsibility of being the Mariners’ No. 1 pitcher now, having taken the mound on Opening Day in Tokyo last Wednesday. He’ll do the same again Thursday for Seattle’s home opener, this time against the defending World

SEATTLE -- It’s not exactly old hand yet, but Marco Gonzales understands the added responsibility of being the Mariners’ No. 1 pitcher now, having taken the mound on Opening Day in Tokyo last Wednesday.

He’ll do the same again Thursday for Seattle’s home opener, this time against the defending World Series champion Red Sox. He acknowledges the extra pressure of being designated the No. 1 starter, but he doesn't hide from it.

Pressure, to Gonzales, was not knowing if he’d ever make it back to the big leagues after dealing with Tommy John surgery three years ago while with the Cardinals. So, he embraces these challenges, welcomes the spotlight that comes with being first up.

“I want that,” Gonzales said Tuesday. “I think I’m that type of person where I enjoy going out and setting the tone for a team like this. Especially when this could be a defining year for us, I want to be at the forefront of that, and I want to show what this team is all about. I think I can do a good job of that.”

The 27-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff against the A’s, having to scramble early while his fastball command proved elusive. But he has enough other weapons to adapt and he settled himself, changed his game plan and came away with the win in a 9-7 victory while allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits over six innings.

“I think the game in Tokyo was a great lesson for me how to prepare for the game, to mentally get in the zone the entire day and know what to expect,” he said. “Now that I have one under my belt, I think this one is going to be a lot more calm and I’m just going to go out and try and win a ballgame.”

Manager Scott Servais said Gonzales’ ability to adjust is one of his strengths. It helps to have a strong four-pitch arsenal to choose from when one isn’t working as well.

“He didn’t have his 'A' game but was able to right the ship and keep us in the ballgame,” Servais said. “That’s very valuable. When you start learning that as a young pitcher in this league, you’re going to end up OK.”

Servais said Gonzales was “on the brink” of getting knocked out early against the A’s when they jumped on him for a pair of runs in the first two innings and had runners on first and third with one out in the second until he got a double-play grounder from Nick Hundley.

Domingo Santana turned the game around with a grand slam in the top of the third. Though Gonzales gave up a two-run homer of his own in the bottom of the third, he settled in and closed out with three scoreless frames.

“He adjusted his style in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. and it worked, which is a credit to him,” Servais said. “Most guys can’t do that. They just have one way of doing it, and if it doesn’t work, [they think], 'I’ll get ’em next time.’ Marco is not wired that way. He’s a really good competitor. He figured out a way to make it work and he learned a lot from that, so, hopefully, he can build upon that.”

Servais noted it would be better if Gonzales has his “A" game going from the start, which will be necessary against the Red Sox as he matches up with ace Chris Sale. In a home opener against the defending champs, dredging up adrenaline won’t be a challenge for the former Gonzaga standout.

These are the games he has played out in his head for years.

“It’s something I’ve worked for a long time and something I’ve dreamed about for a long time,” he said. “Being where I was at in my career, at a point I thought it was something that was never going to happen. So, I’m just grateful in a lot of ways and to a lot of different people. It’s not just me that’s standing here -- there’s a whole bunch of people that have helped me out along the way, so there’s a lot of credit to give out.

“The one in Tokyo was obviously something that I’ll remember forever. I’ll have some more family here on Thursday and some friends, my grandparents, people that have been there for every step of the way."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.