Seattle Mariners

Marco Gonzales ‘champing at the bit’ for Mariners return. Rotation just won’t look the same

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales delivers against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Mike Stone)
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales delivers against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Mike Stone) AP

Marco Gonzales will be activated off of the disabled list and will start for the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday in their series opener against the San Diego Padres.

For the former Gonzaga University star, this has been way too long coming.

Way, way too long.

“It sucks. It’s terrible,” Gonzales said of his DL stint that’s lasted since Aug. 24. “Obviously I love cheering on my teammates, but not being able to go out and take the ball every fifth day – it sucks. And I think I’m going to bring that much more life and intensity into this stretch run because of that.”

That’s the Marco the Mariners have missed. That’s the competitive fire that carried him through four 5A state championships in four years at Rocky Mountain High School in Colorado – and he started in all four of them.

But the Mariners even more missed the Gonzales who in July had a 1.78 ERA in four starts and entered August with a 3.37 ERA (lowest on the Mariners’ staff). Not the Gonzales who in his past four starts went 0-4 with a 10.35 ERA.

The 26-year-old left-hander said he’d been dealing with the strain of a cervical muscle in his neck for at least his previous three starts before it finally landed him on the DL.

He’s also already pitched a career-high 145 2/3 innings this season, two years removed from Tommy John surgery he had when he was in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization. And maybe that had something to do with his latest injury.

And certainly his past four poor starts.

“I mean, I was dealing with some (stuff),” Gonzales said. “I was dealing with some fatigue and some neck aches and things like that I was battling through and pushing through hoping it would get better. So putting that aside I think there’s not going to be anything stopping me from doing what I was doing before.”

He tossed between 35-40 pitches off the mound with some live hitters mixed in on Friday before the Mariners series opener against the New York Yankees.

“I want to see the same guy we saw in June and July. He was cruising,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And he does feel fine, physically, and he threw all his pitches.”

Servais said they’ll likely limit Gonzales to about 75 pitches on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to be watching out team close to contention and have to be on the sideline,” Gonzales said. “I would like to be helping and contributing and I think I can.

“It’s going to be important to trust in my process and stay up on my arm care and make sure I’m ready to go out and compete. These will obviously be important starts the rest of the way and the opponents are very important that we’re going to be facing. I won’t take it lightly. I’ve been anxious to and champing at the bit the past couple weeks waiting to get back out there.”

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6-man rotation

Math says adding Gonzales to the rotation would push the Mariners to six starting pitchers.

Servais said they won’t knock any of their current starters out and they’ll roll with six starters in the rotation for the remainder of the season.

This is a vision the Mariners had laid out during the offseason, but it never materialized because of various injuries and their five-man rotation essentially carried this team when Seattle ran to, at one point, 24-games above .500.

So the rotation for the remainder of the season would include James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez, Gonzales, Wade LeBlanc and Mike Leake.

“We got a couple guys reaching career highs or are already past their career highs in innings pitched,” Servais said. “Where we’re at as a ball club right now, we have six guys who are healthy enough to do it. I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, quite frankly, but it’s something we talked about we may need to go with at certain points in the season.

“We got guys healthy now and you try to keep them healthy throughout the remainder of the season and hopefully they have enough left in the tank as we get all the way down to the last week.”

Seattle Mariners shortstop Jean Segura, right, throws to first base after forcing out Baltimore Orioles’ Joey Rickard at second base in the eighth inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, in Seattle. Segura completed the double play at first, throwing out Orioles’ Caleb Joseph. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Elaine Thompson AP

Segura out, not out

Jean Segura was originally not part of the Mariners’ initial lineup for Friday’s game.

But when Servais met with reporters before the game just before 4 p.m., he said Segura was ready to play, coming just a week after Segura missed the first two games of the Mariners’ series in Oakland because of a bone bruise on his shin.

“I got a text early this morning that he was running a fever,” Servais said. “But he came in and said he was feeling much better.”

Segura said it was something he dealt with mostly on Thursday’s off day.

“I’m good,” he said.

So Dee Gordon switched from shortstop to center field and Ben Gamel was taken out of the starting lineup.

Servais was asked about all the position changes some of the Mariners’ players have made this year, especially Gordon (CF, SS, 2B), Cano (2B, 1B, 3B) and Mitch Haniger (RF, CF, LF).

“It’s nice to have that,” Servais said. “I think you see a number of teams do it who have been very successful in the league. You have to have players buy into it and feel good about doing it.

“If I had that kind of ability, I would have loved to be able to move around out there and not been stuck behind the plate. I think it would be really fun. I really do. But everybody is wired differently.”

On tap

Right-hander Felix Hernandez (8-13, 5.55 ERA) starts for the Mariners at 6:10 p.m. Saturday at Safeco Field against Yankees right-hander Lance Lynn (8-10, 5.10 ERA). The game will broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM radio.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill