Marco Gonzales spoke after his last start, five days ago against the Houston Astros, about having found something and being more aggressive in the strike zone.
Gonzales kept doing that on Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox and had even better results – granted, this was the five-win White Sox, not the 16-win Astros.
The Mariners needed a strong start from their starting pitcher. At least it felt like that with how deprived they had been of a such a thing their past three games.
So Gonzales struck out eight batters for the second consecutive start and he lasted six innings in leading the Mariners to a 1-0 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.
Gonzales did that by attacking – he threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 24 batters he faced. It was the longest outing of his young career without allowing a run.
“Every time out I’m trying to build off of something I did last time,” Gonzales told reporters afterward. “Trying to take positives away from every start and build off of it and stay aggressive.”
And then the Mariners’ bullpen shut it down, with Edwin Diaz doing what Edwin Diaz does, hitting 100 mph against Yoan Moncada before striking him out with a 90-mph slider.
That’s the ninth save for Diaz this year, which is tied for the most in the major leagues so far.
“Eddy was spot on,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That was probably about as sharp as Eddy has been in a while.”
So ... the only run of the game:
It came on a two-out rally in the fourth inning. And who else but Mitch Haniger?
Kyle Seager led with a double and then Haniger singled up the middle to drive him in.
Haniger finished 1-for-4, pushing his hit streak to seven consecutive games, and he’s 12-for-27 (.444) since April 18 with nine RBI
But no home run. His streak ended at four consecutive games with a home run – and he’s one of 15 players in Mariners history to have done that.
It wasn’t the prettiest beginning for Gonzales, the Gonzaga University graduate. After Mike Leake allowed seven consecutive hits to the White Sox to start Monday’s game, the White Sox opened with back-to-back hits against Gonzales.
But then he hit a groove, facing 16 consecutive batters without allowing a hit.
“We got to continue to build off of that,” Servais said. “He’s in a really good spot right now and he’s got a lot of confidence.”
And Dan Altavilla, Marc Rzepczynski, Juan Nicasio and Diaz combined to pitch three perfect innings of relief – no hits, no walks, no runs and four strikeouts between the four of them.
Z-Fence: How nice is it to have Mike Zunino back?
Even when he’s not impacting games with his bat he’s doing so with his play behind the plate. He tossed speedy Adam Engel trying to steal when he threw a rocket to second base.
And they love his pitch framing. Zunino did enough on the final pitch of the sixth inning against Matt Davidson for umpire Mike Estabrook to say Gonzales’ 91-mph sinker hit the outside corner (according to MLB’s tracker, it was a bit outside).
So that was Gonzales’ eighth strikeout of the game, and it came with runners at the corners.
White Sox manager Rick Renteria disapproved so much that Estabrook tossed him between innings.
“He’s huge,” Gonzales said of Zunino. “We all love having him back not only in the lineup but obviously behind the plate. He’s a great target and he knows the game and knows the hitters really well. Our scouting meeting before the game was spot on. We implemented the plan we wanted to do today.
“We got a little extra off of the plate today and that’s a credit to him.”
And Zunino got the Mariners out of the eighth inning when he ran a long way into foul territory and made a diving basket catch to get the White Sox’s most dangerous hitter out – Jose Abreu.
“That’s just me trying to play a well-rounded game,” Zunino said on 710-AM radio afterward. “Obviously I can’t bring it every day with the stick, but I want to be able to do that every day behind the plate and help my guys out on the mound.”
Zunino wasn’t the only player with some big defensive plays. Jean Segura for the second consecutive game made a diving play to rob a batter of a hit, getting Trayce Thompson at first base with a throw from his knee.
Thompson’s older brother is Golden State Warriors guard and former Washington State University standout Klay Thompson. If it feels like you’ve seen a lot of Trayce Thompson, you probably have. He’s on his fourth team in the past 3½ weeks.
He started the season with the Oakland Athletics. He started spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers before being waived, was picked up by the New York Yankees, waived again, signed with the A’s before being traded back to the White Sox on Friday.
Starter power: For the first time in six games the Mariners got their starting pitcher into the seventh inning.
The last time: Mike Leake against the Houston Astros on Wednesday (April 18)
This time: Marco Gonzales against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.
And for the second consecutive start Gonzales struck out eight batters. That was just the third start he’s had at least that many in his career after fanning a career-high nine batters in a 2014 start for the St. Louis Cardinals.
And Scott Servais exhorted before Tuesday’s game about the Mariners’ need to have their starting pitchers go deeper into games.
Gonzales faced 16 consecutive batters without allowing a hit after allowing back-to-back hits to the first two batters he faced.
Servais sent him back out for the seventh inning, but Yoan Moncada led off with a double and Gonzales was pulled for Dan Altavilla.
Pen is mighty: As good as Marco Gonzales was, the Mariners then got three perfect innings of relief from Dan Altavilla, Marc Rzepczynski, Juan Nicasio and Edwin Diaz.
But let’s focus on Nicasio and Diaz.
Nicasio entered the day tied for the major-league lead in holds and he got another one Tuesday and he seemed to find some of his velocity, too – topping out at 95 mph.
Nicasio had told Servais his arm was feeling stiff after his outing against the Rangers on Friday.
And for a guy who prides himself on wanting to pitch every day, the three days off seemed to help him a lot.
“This is probably the best Juan has thrown all year for us,” Servais said. “He was pretty stiff his last time out and getting a couple of days off seemed to really help. The ball had life on it today and he always has good command.”
Then Diaz pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to shut the door after he needed 40 pitches to get a four-out save on Saturday with Nicasio out.
“Eddy was spot on today,” Servais said. “That was probably about as sharp as Eddy has been in a while.”
Play of the game: For how well Marco Gonzales was dealing, the Mariners’ offense wasn’t doing him any favors.
Until there were two outs in the fourth inning. Kyle Seager hit a double and then Mitch Haniger, like he has seemingly all month, delivered.
His RBI single up the middle was the Mariners’ lone run.
Haniger’s 24 RBIs so far are the second-most in baseball behind the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius.
Top pitcher: The Mariners had a lot of solid pitchers on Tuesday to combine for the shut out. But Marco Gonzales? He didn’t allow a run in six innings, with eight strikeouts and five hits allowed. That’s the longest outing of his career without allowing a run.
Combine this with his start last week against the Astros, Gonzales has pitched 10 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
Top hitter: No five-game streak with at least one home run for Mitch Haniger. But he did drive in the Mariners’ only run, scoring Kyle Seager with two outs in the fourth inning.
And Seager finished 2-for-4.
Quotable: Marco Gonzales tag-teamed with the sun and shadows at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I loved it,” he said. “Talking to a couple of hitters in the first inning, asking them what’s kind of deceiving, what are you seeing out of his hand I can use. Guys just said anything that comes out looks like a fastball. You don’t know what it is.
“So I tried to run my changeup and my cutter a lot because I knew I could use those pitches to my advantage.”