Marco Gonzales is at home and is pitching like it. Sitting at 4-0 with a 3.32 ERA, the former Gonzaga baseball standout finds himself at the forefront of the Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff, leading the way for a team off to a surprisingly hot start.
For Gonzales, his emergence in the MLB began with a change of scenery and a return close to the home he made at GU, about 300 miles across I-90.
The starter said he felt "pure joy" when first learning of his trade to the Mariners from the St. Louis Cardinals in July 2017.
“To get a fresh opportunity with a new team and go to a place I’m familiar with in the Northwest, all while being close to friends and family has led to a lot of passion in my game," he said.
Since taking the chance on Gonzales, the Mariners have witnessed a new ace in their rotation. His early success and the team’s big offense anchored an impressive 13-2 start to the season. Yet, Gonzales’s rise to Opening Day starter did not go without overcoming his share of adversity.
Drafted by the Cardinals 19th overall in 2013, he entered the league with high expectations. He was coming off a GU career where he was an All-American, two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year and one of the best two-way players in college baseball. When the Cardinals called him up just a year after getting drafted, Gonzales seemed poised to succeed.
That’s when injuries hit.
The left-hander missed time in 2015 due to shoulder problems and then the entire 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his pitching elbow. He made it back to the Cardinals for one short start before being shipped to Seattle.
Through it all, Gonzales kept his calm and collected approach — the same one his coaches and teammates witnessed in his time as a Zag.
“He handled injury problems like a champ, just like he handled everything here,” said GU head coach Mark Machtolf. “His composure is off the charts. It’s in his blood to be that way.”
After struggling in his first Mariners start in 2017 and facing criticism from fans about the trade, Gonzales put the critics to rest with his 2018 performance. He became a model for consistency, pacing the Mariners with a 13-9 record, along with a 4.00 ERA and 145 strikeouts.
His breakout year was capped by a complete game, when Gonzales struck out seven batters and didn’t walk anyone in a 96-pitch gem versus the Kansas City Royals in June.
Earlier that month, Gonzales earned the win for the Mariners on Gonzaga Night at Safeco Field. When he walked off the mound in the seventh inning, he left to a standing ovation.
It was performances like these that earned Gonzales the nod on Opening Day this season when the Mariners faced the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo, Japan. The moment was not too big for Gonzales. He got the win and then won again in Seattle’s home opener.
“It was all kind of a blur and it happened so fast,” Gonzales said. “I had a lot of different emotions that I tried to let fuel me and embrace it while going out there and competing. I just try to build off that and keep that energy going throughout the rest of the year.”
Part of the difference for Gonzales has been his ability to mix up pitches in addition his effective fastball and change-up. With an improved curveball and command over a cutter added to his arsenal, Gonzales keeps building confidence the Mariners figure to work around for the future.
While the team’s young roster seeks to surpass low preseason expectations, Machtolf has no doubt his former pitcher will be at the center of Seattle's success while making an impact on and off the field.
“He is a great, great teammate and I don’t use that word lightly,” Machtolf said. “He had a tremendous amount of success right off the bat, but you would have never known it because he was very humble. He treated guys like gold.”
As for Gonzales, he’s focused on mastering his consistent approach to keep growing and delivering as a reliable starter for Seattle.
“I just want to go out, compete every game and give everything I have,” Gonzales said. “Just try to keep it simple, stay healthy, and I think the rest will take care of itself.”
The once-dominant GU pitcher is now at the top of his game at the highest level of baseball. As he reflects on his success, he pays tribute to the place that helped him reach this point.
“[GU] taught me hard work, dedication, being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself and giving back to a community,” he said. “Also, being more than a baseball player, being a better person off the field. I’m very thankful for all that I’ve learned [at GU].”
In February, Gonzales returned to his alma mater for GU baseball’s First Pitch Dinner, an annual dinner hosted by the team. He was accompanied by former teammate and current Cleveland Indians reliever Tyler Olson as another strong ambassador for the program.
Gonzales was the keynote speaker and addressed current Bulldog players, showing not only what a player can achieve but how he should act along the way. Machtolf saw his former pitcher pass on that simple, humble approach, which was championed as a Zag and is now allowing Gonzales to thrive as a Mariner.
Preaching consistency and donning the same No. 7 he wore for GU, Gonzales is back in Washington, poised to lead the Mariners.
“Marco is going to be the same guy every day and I hope he wins the Cy Young Award, knock on wood,” Machtolf said. “If he does, he’ll be the same guy, the same humble person, which to me is the most impressive thing of all.”
Matthew Beaird is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @MattBeaird7.