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About this time last season, Seattle Mariners starter Marco Gonzales was temporarily shut down with a muscle strain that cost him a few late-season starts. He had lost four consecutive games in August before he was placed on the injured list.
But, when he did return, he wrapped up an overall encouraging first full season with the Mariners by compiling a 1.71 ERA across his final four outings, pitching at least five complete innings in each, and not allowing a run in his final two starts.
This season, Gonzales said he’s made a conscious effort to listen to his body throughout the taxing six-month season, in an effort to remain consistent through his outings, and avoid any late-season drop-offs. That awareness appears to be working in his favor.
As Seattle’s lost season winds down, Gonzales is 9-4 in his past 14 starts, and notched his 14th win of the season — a career-high — Sunday afternoon as the Mariners topped the Blue Jays, 3-1, at T-Mobile Park. He tossed seven complete innings, allowing just the one run on a season-low three hits, and walked two while striking out five on 99 pitches.
“Marco brought his A-game today. He was outstanding,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The crispness to his fastball, he had a lot of ride on his fastball today up in the zone.
“We talked after his last start. Last year, going through an entire season, he missed about three or four starts there. I think it was about this time last year. He came back in September and finished pretty strong, but sometimes you’ve got to back off on your throwing and what you’re doing between starts, and I thought he did just a little bit less between starts, and it paid off today.”
Gonzales retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced, and didn’t allow a hit until the third inning. No runners reached scoring position until the fifth, when a walk and a subsequent wild throw on a pickoff attempt sent Derek Fisher to third with no outs.
But, Gonzales got a pop fly out of Teoscar Hernandez, struck out Brandon Drury and got a groundout from McGuire to end the threat.
His only meaningful blunder came in the sixth. Toronto rookie darling Bo Bichette doubled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. fly out to right, and scored on Rowdy Tellez’s RBI single.
After a rough stretch in May and early June, during which he lost six of seven starts, Gonzales seems to have found a working rhythm. He hasn’t lost a game in T-Mobile Park since the end of that stretch, when he allowed 10 runs in a loss to the Angels on June 2.
“Baseball comes in waves,” he said. “You try to stay consistent and not ride those waves. That takes a lot of practice and a lot of failure to understand how to stay consistent and stay level-headed. Through that I was just trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel and just keep working.”
He said the frustration from that month helped him grow as a pitcher, and he’s tried to maintain stability in his routine — with minor tweaks in the amount of throwing, lifting and running he partakes in, based on how he feels physically — in getting back on track.
“I think going into the season, my main goal was just to find my consistency,” he said. “Be able to be someone that my teammates looked at and said I did the same thin every single day, and went out and competed, and took the ball and was just the same guy.
“I’ve got a little more ways to go, but at this point it’s been good to see the result come through, and just be able to know that I’ve stuck to the process.”
After not registering a plate appearance in the past week week, rookie utility player Dylan Moore gifted the Mariners their first hit and an early 1-0 lead with a solo shot to left in the third. It was his sixth homer of the season.
The following inning, J.P. Crawford singled, and scampered around from first on a Kyle Seager RBI double to the gap in right center two batters later to scratch across a second run.
And, in the seventh, rookie Austin Nola, who has consistently impressed since his call-up midway through June, opened the seventh with an infield single, and advanced to second on a wild attempt to throw him out at first by Jason Adam. He was balked to third.
Two batters later, when Omar Narvaez hit a shallow fly ball to left, Nola tagged and aggressively took off for home, diving at a corner of the plate to avoid Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire and give the Mariners some insurance, making it 3-1.
It wasn’t much run support, but Gonzales didn’t need much.
“The command of his stuff is really good,” Servais said. “Early in the year in that stretch there, he was really reliant on his cutter. That was his go-to pitch last year and he kind of got away from that. He got back to throwing his curveball and his changeup because his cutter really wasn’t that consistent at that time.
“Marco needs to get them all working. He doesn’t have have all four but he’s got to have three working in any particular outing. That’s what we’ve seen. That’s how you win 14, 15, 16 games in this league is can you get through the fifth, sixth, seventh inning? That’s where the games are won or lost. We all know that. He has the ability to put the pedal to the metal and really bear down in those spots, because he knows that’s the separator. We certainly saw it today. We’ve seen it a number of times in these games.”
Sam Tuivailala recorded a quick two outs for the Mariners in the eighth before walking Cavan Biggio. Guerrero capitalized on the mistake, sending Biggio to third on a double to right. But, Tuivailala got out of the inning unscathed after Moore tracked down a Tellez fly in left, making the catch as he fell to the grass.
Matt Magill struck out both Randal Grichuk and Hernandez in the ninth, working around a one-out double by Fisher, and got a pop fly in foul territory from Drury to end the game.