Marco Gonzales, who was dubbed Seattle’s ace and its Opening Day pitcher some seven months ago, collected his 15th win of the season Wednesday, becoming the sixth lefty in Mariners history to reach that mark and the first since Jamie Moyer in 2003.
After that most recent win over the Reds, during which he tossed seven quality innings — his 16th such outing this season — Gonzales reflected on what he’s been able to put together in 31 starts since March.
When all is said and done in the next two weeks, what will he be most proud of, the wins or the innings he’s been able to put on his arm after injuries stalled progress earlier in his professional career?
“I think the fact that I’ve made every start,” Gonzales said before pausing momentarily to superstitiously knock on the wooden frame of his locker, knowing he has three scheduled starts remaining.
“I think that’s an important thing for me, just because of health reasons,” he continued. “I mean, it shows that I’ve put the work in and stuck to a process that’s worked for me this year. We’ve got a little ways to go, but at the end of the year I’ll be most happy with that, I think.”
Gonzales, who turned 27 in February and is in his fifth season in the majors and his second full season with the Mariners, has compiled the most complete season of his big-league career in 2019.
He nearly made it through an entire season without setback last year, making 29 starts with Seattle, but a muscle strain cost him two weeks and multiple starts between August and September. In seasons prior, when Gonzales was in the Cardinals’ organization, he spent 2015 dealing with shoulder issues and had season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2016.
This will be the first season he hasn’t missed his spot in the rotation cycle at all, assuming he makes the final three mapped out in the next two weeks — Tuesday’s series opener at Pittsburgh, Sunday in Baltimore and Sept. 28 against Oakland, the second-to-last game of the season for the Mariners.
“I’ve really been trying to take care of my body and listen to my body and do things the right way,” Gonzales said.
The consistency of starting every five days or so without significant injury has allowed Gonzales the opportunity for marked improvement. The 4.30 ERA he’s carrying doesn’t necessarily suggest that — the 4.00 ERA he recorded in 2018 in a similar amount of starts is the best for a single season in his career — but other numbers do.
Gonzales’ 31 starts this season are tied for the most in the American League, his 15 wins are tied for eighth-most in the majors and his 182 innings pitched rank among the top 20 starters in baseball. When the Mariners wrap up the season, Gonzales could be one of just a handful of pitchers to exceed 200 innings this season — something he’s never done in his career.
Apart from a peculiar stretch in May and early June, during which he lost six games in seven starts after winning his first five decisions of the season, Gonzales has often acted as a stabilizer for a Mariners team in the depths of the AL West with a 62-88 record that rivals some of the club’s worst seasons.
He’s given Seattle about six innings on average in his starts and has worked seven or more in 17 of his 31 outings. His nine starts with seven or more innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs rank tied for sixth in the AL.
Gonzales is 10-5 since that six-game skid in the spring, and hasn’t lost a game at T-Mobile Park since, going 6-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his last seven starts at home.
“He can certainly smell wins,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said in August. “When we get a lead for him, he’s a guy you want out there. He makes pitches. He stays aggressive.”
He’s looking for a strong final stretch.
Gonzales said his ability to continue to have life on his pitches without showing fatigue this late in the season is a credit to keeping his arm healthy and staying diligent with the routine he’s built.
“I’ve just been grateful,” he said.