Gonzales takes 'real big step' before opener

July 19th, 2020

SEATTLE -- For , it’s time to bring on the Astros.

The Mariners’ No. 1 starter worked his second and final intrasquad game on Saturday night at T-Mobile Park, throwing four innings of two-run ball against a lineup that will be close to Seattle’s Opening Day nine.

Opening Day now looms on Friday in Houston, and the 28-year-old southpaw says he feels a lot more ready after his final tuneup in this abbreviated Summer Camp.

“Today was a real big step in the right direction,” Gonzales said. “I was very, very convicted in everything that I threw. My curveball showed up today, which is a huge weapon for me. And my fastball to both sides of the plate and up and down, it just felt really good coming out of my hand. So I’m really happy with the work we put in.”

The Mariners’ starting pitchers face the biggest challenge in the short ramp-up to the regular season, as most will only squeeze in a live batting practice session or two and a pair of intrasquad outings before things get real.

But Gonzales threw 49 pitches in his four frames and looked much sharper than in his prior outing last Sunday, when he walked three and gave up a pair of runs in 2 2/3 innings. This time, he gave up six hits -- but no walks -- while striking out three.

“This week has been really great working with [pitching coach Pete Woodworth] and the catchers and just finding my timing and ironing some things out, preparing for Game 1,” he said. “I was really happy with the prep this week.”

Friday will mark Gonzales’ second Opening Day start, having beaten the A’s last year in the Opening Series at the Tokyo Dome. He went on to a 16-13 season with a 3.99 ERA in a Major League-leading 34 starts, covering a career-best 203 innings.

There will be no such lofty numbers this season as the Mariners’ plan is to go with a six-man rotation, which means potentially 10 starts apiece in the 60-game slate.

Seattle will also be careful with their starters’ innings in the initial outings, but Gonzales felt he took a strong step forward in that regard Saturday as well.

“My plan is to push and go as much as I can,” he said. “I was asking for another inning out there. I was only scheduled for three, but I feel ready to go and my body feels strong. With the six-man rotation, we get a little extra rest, so I wanted to push it a little bit. My goal is for 5-6 plus [innings on Opening Day], as many as I can go.”

Gonzales said he has enjoyed facing his teammates, and seeing guys like Daniel Vogelbach step into the box “makes me want to switch on another gear and get after it.” But there’s good and bad in intrasquad competition, like seeing rookie first baseman go 2-for-2 with a jam single and a ground-rule double to left-center in his two at-bats Saturday.

“I think Evan is just a great example of hard work and diligence and just doing things the right way,” Gonzales said. “I’m happy for him and can’t wait to watch him play. I’m glad he’s on my team. And I can’t wait to have him at first base. He’s a real weapon for us on the field and swings the bat really well.

“He’s definitely a tough out, but he needs to make it tough on other guys. I’m tired of facing him.”