A “whirlwind” is how Marco Gonzales described his rookie season.
“It’s been overused a lot, but it’s pretty accurate,” Gonzales said at last month’s Cardinal Caravan stop in Evansville, Ind. “I think just experience-wise, pitching in high pressure situations, just being able to prepare and see what other guys have done in those situations will help me going forward. There’s no better way to grow and learn than to be thrown in the fire like that and see what happens.”
That fire Gonzales spoke of happened to be the 2014 Postseason. Gonzales, a 2013 first round draft pick out of Gonzaga, bounced between Triple-A Memphis and the Major League roster throughout the season before landing a spot on the playoff roster as a reliever.
Normally a starter – he made his Major League debut with a June 25 at Colorado – he was added to provide another left-handed arm out of the bullpen to complement Randy Choate and to perhaps serve as a long reliever if needed.
And he was stellar.
He didn’t give up a run and allowed just three hits during his first five outings and picked up two wins during that stretch, including the dramatic NLDS Game 4 series-clinching win over the L.A. Dodgers. His only bad outing came in Game 4 of the NLCS vs. the San Francisco Giants in which he gave up three earned runs in 2/3 innings pitched and was saddled with a blown save.
But those were the only three runs he gave up in six playoff appearances. As a rookie.
So it’s no surprise that as pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Thursday that Gonzales heads to Jupiter with much more expectations than he had a year ago. After posting a respectable 4-2 record and a 4.15 earned run average in 10 appearances – five of which were starts – Gonzales will likely compete heavily with Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia for the No. 5 starter spot.
Gonzales said he worked on his cutter and implemented a two-seam fastball over the offseason. Per BrooksBaseball.net, Gonzales threw a four-seam fastball most of the team mixed in with a change-up, curveball, slider and a sinker.
With a two-seamer and a cutter in the mix, that’s a repertoire and collection of pitches that even some veterans don’t possess.
Gonzales is pretty clearly a starter and most certainly projects that way long term. But in the mean time he could serve as a very solid left-handed middle-to-long relief guy. He’ll likely have a more prominent role than guys like long-relief left-handers Tyler Lyons or Nick Greenwood, so he fills a role that the Cardinals haven’t really had in a while.
He’s a real threat to win the No. 5 spot, though Martinez seems to be the favorite heading into camp. At any rate, Gonzales also provides a solid option as a sixth starter if anyone gets hurt or if Jaime Garcia can’t get or remain healthy. Speaking of Garcia, his health could go a long way in determining exactly what role Gonzales will have to start the season.
At this point Gonzales said he just wants to help in whatever way he can.
“A lot of it is just focusing on my consistency – realizing what I can bring to the table, realizing who I am as a pitcher and realizing what I did well and focusing on that, staying within myself,” he said. “Going into Spring Training it’s really just focusing on my strengths and hoping that I can help the team.”
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