Photo: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire
Marco Gonzales is good at sports
When the Royals were last in town, I was offered a ticket to my choice of one of the three games in that series. I looked at the schedule, saw that the Saturday game had the fun "Turn Ahead the Clock" promotion and nearly picked that one, but then I looked at the pitching rotation and saw Marco Gonzales' name for the Friday game. "Friday," I told my friend with the ticket connection, "no question." The King still reigns and Big Maple is the undisputed ace, but the guy I want to see pitch is Marco.
Unlike a lot of people, I wasn't down on the trade that brought him here at the time—The Seattle Times' Larry Stone, in one of the more positive takes, called it a "head-scratcher"—but then, I pay more attention to the National League than a lot of folks in these parts do. I knew Gonzales had a history as the Cardinals' minor-league Pitcher of the Year and some experience in the playoffs for St. Louis, and even though he was coming off of a Tommy John rehab, I didn't think Jerry Dipoto necessarily overpaid for him in the deal. Top prospect Tyler O'Neill went the other way, and, sure, O'Neill might deliver on that top-prospect label sometime, but not even the best of top prospects are sure things, especially with the Mariners (see: Hultzen, Danny; Ackley, Dustin; Clement, Jeff). For now, O'Neill has been riding the Memphis shuttle for the Cardinals and is currently on the DL. But even if O'Neill turns into Aaron Judge someday, Gonzales is paying dividends right now.
He wasn't expected to. Preseason projections had Gonzales putting up something in the neighborhood of a 7-7 record and 4.50 ERA, maybe approaching 100 Ks in just over 100 innings. Which goes to show you how useless preseason projections are.
Marco hits the All-Star break leading the Mariners in wins with 10, an ERA under 3.50, 98 Ks in 113 innings, and still has two-and-a-half months to go. There's no sign of arm trouble, and a disciplined between-starts regimen helps keep him healthy. "His work in between starts is impeccable," said manager Scott Servais. "A lot of times, young players [will] get on a roll and say, ‘OK, I have this figured out.’ Marco has not done that. He’s not backed off the pedal at all."
He's also benefited from being on a team with James Paxton, who, though a very different type of pitcher, has tutored him on the mental approach to getting batters out. “I’ve noticed him throw with more conviction” after working with Paxton, said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to be on a team that's winning and that has an exceptional team chemistry. Gonzales and fellow southpaw Wade LeBlanc are the BFFs of Instagram, and if Marco has his way they'll take the fun to Twitter as well:
Wade, get on Twitter so I can tell you how good you are at sports. I’ll send you an email.— Marco Gonzales (@MarcoGonzales_) June 17, 2018
Gonzales' Twitter feed is awash with compliments on his teammates' efforts—"Mike Z, you the man!"; "Big congrats to Pax!"; "Congrats, Jeano!"—and he has such a team-first mentality that when the Times' Ryan Divish asked how he felt about leading the club in wins, he said, "I didn’t even know. That’s great, though." The understated attitude parallels his pitching style in some ways; he isn't going to overpower batters with his 89-mile-an-hour heat, just make them look foolish with his wicked curve and darting changeup and then celebrate via goofy social media posts with his teammates about how neat it is to play sports.
Congrats Jeano! Thanks to our fans and everyone who voted! Also, can someone teach me how to high five pic.twitter.com/eTM4C7Cz9y— Marco Gonzales (@MarcoGonzales_) July 12, 2018
I think that's the crux of why Gonzales has become my favorite Mariner pitcher. The sense of fun he projects when not on the mound juxtaposed with the determined focus he shows on it. (And, that his stuff reminds me of a favorite lefty from my youth, John Tudor, who made it look so easy when throwing so softly.)
That game against the Royals turned out to be Marco's first career complete-game and was oh-so-close to being his first shutout as well. The crowd was cheering mightily when he came back out for the ninth inning and the PA declared in song that "he's going the distance." It was Marcomania.
May it continue for many years to come.