If Marco Gonzales was brilliant even when he didn’t have his best stuff …
Imagine what it was like for the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday – when he did.
Imagine being Justin Upton, swinging violently through one of Gonzales’ changeups, his favorite pitch, before staring at another in the same spot for a strikeout.
Imagine before the season saying Gonzales would lead the Mariners in wins and have 10 before the All-Star break.
And as you can imagine, the Seattle Mariners rolled behind Gonzales’ dominant outing, despite him taking a hard-hit comebacker off his calf, for a 3-0 victory over the Angels at Angel Stadium.
“He didn’t sit down the whole game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters afterward. “He was in the batting cage running and trying to keep (his calf) loose.
“Once you calm that thing down it tightens up, so keeping it loose and that’s exactly what we needed – getting through seven innings tonight on two hits. Awesome, awesome job.”
Gonzales allowed two hits in seven shutout innings with no walks and four strikeouts. He needed just 82 pitches.
So then the Mariners (58-35) turned it over in the ninth inning to Edwin Diaz, who picked up his major-league leading 36th save a day after the Mariners surrendered a three-run lead to lose, 9-3, to the Angels on Tuesday.
And this comes less than a week after Gonzales, who is two years removed from Tommy John surgery, competed through six gritty innings despite missing his best stuff.
“You go back to coming into spring training and him making some adjustments,” Servais said. “And just being healthy and feeling like he was ready to go from the get-go. And he has not backed off.
“His work between starts, he’s really disciplined. A lot of times younger players get on a roll and they say, ‘I got this figured out.’ Marco has not done that. He has not backed off the pedal at all and he’s going to have a lot left in the tank as we get going in the second half.”
The Mariners pulled to within three games of the Houston Astros in the American League West and remain six games ahead of the Oakland Athletics for the final wild card spot.
The Angels started hitting Gonzales hard in the sixth and seventh innings, but he still ended his outing sitting 11 consecutive Angels batters before Alex Colome took over in the eighth.
The Mariners took a 3-0 lead after the first three batters a day earlier.
It took until the No. 9 hitter, catcher David Freitas to do that this time.
But Freitas delivered. He launched the first pitch he saw, a high fastball, out to center field, which is no guarantee with Mike Trout roaming those parts.
The ball grazed off the top of Trout’s glove and landed over the wall for a hit Freitas won’t likely forget – his first career major-league home run. It took him 84 career MLB at-bats between the Braves and Mariners, not to mention eight years toiling in the minor leagues as an oft-considered defense-first catcher, to make it happen.
But there it was.
He got the ball eventually, too, from a little kid.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Freitas said. “I asked (clubhouse manager) Ryan Stiles what I’m supposed to do here and he said to sign some stuff and get a bat to him.”
So he signed a ball and a bat in exchange.
“You look at my career in the minor leagues … I came a long way,” Freitas said. “It’s a proud moment for me. I got that with my mom, my wife and my son all here. And they got to share it, and the agent is here, too.”
The Mariners recalled Freitas from Triple-A Tacoma last week to replace Mike Zunino, who is on the 10-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his ankle.
And that was the first hit of either team.
Gonzales sat the first 10 batters he faced before Andrelton Simmons sent a 97-mph comebacker off of the back of Gonzales’ left leg for an infield single.
Gonzales stayed in the game after being attended to, and Trout followed with a bloop single. But Gonzales then struck out Upton on back-to-back filthy changeups and he got Albert Pujols to ground out to short to end the threat.
“It was pretty painful at first,” Gonzales said. “I tried to block it out. Took some pain meds and said, ‘Screw it.’ I tried to just keep throwing pitches an keep us in the ball game.”
Then Nelson Cruz happened..
He entered Wednesday’s game in an 0-for-13 thicket. Cruz’s June had him in consideration for American League player of the month, when he hit .326 with 11 home runs and 24 RBI (with a 1.144 OPS).
But entering his second at-bat of this game, Cruz was 3-for-24 (.125) with one home run since the calendar turned to July.
Jean Segura led off the fourth inning with a double, Mitch Haniger was hit by a pitch, they advanced to third and second on a wild pitch and that set up Cruz’s two-run single up the middle.
So just an All-Star (Cruz) scoring two other All-Stars (Segura and Haniger).
But this night was about Gonzales..
He picked up his 10th win of the season, which leads the Mariners. He’s the 10th pitcher in club history to get that many wins before the All-Star break, joining Dave Fleming (1992), Felix Hernandez (2013-15), Freddy Garcia (2001-02), Randy Johnson (1993-94, 1997), Mark Langston (1987), Gil Meche (2003), Jamie Moyer (2003), Joel Piniero (2003) and Aaron Sele (2000-01).
“I didn’t even know, honestly,” Gonzales said. “That’s great though. I think a lot of credit has to go to the team. They’ve scored runs at the right times. … Those are certainly not my 10 wins. They are team wins.”
A few takeaways:
Marco Gonzales allowed just two hits in seven shutout innings.
So over his past three starts he’s 3-0 and has allowed two runs in 22 innings pitched (0.82 ERA).
But take this back a little bit further. Don’t include those back-to-back starts against the Yankees and Red Sox, the team Gonzales accused of stealing signs, and the Gonzaga University graduate has a 1.19 ERA since May 17. Include those two road starts and he has a 2.35 ERA.
“He can go to all quadrants,” Freitas said. “Up, down, in, out, back and forth. That’s pitching. That’s keeping guys off timing. He can keep guys from leaning over or trying to pull you. He can mix and match and that’s what makes him so good.”
He retired the final 11 batters he faced, one night after the Angels scored nine runs against the Mariners.
Defense does it
Jean Segura raced to a ball hit 107.5 mph off Andrelton Simmons’ bat with two outs in the sixth inning.
He back-handed it, stopped and fired to get the Angels’ speedy shortstop at first base.
That’s an All-Star defensive play.
And the Mariners needed a few more of those. The hardest-hit ball of the day came the next inning, when Justin Upton lined a ball with a 109.8-mph exit velocity right at Segura. Mitch Haniger, another Mariners All-Star, then had to quickly chase down Albert Pujols’ line drive in right field for the final out of the seventh.
Marco Gonzales rolled for much of this game, but of the four balls hit at exit velocities faster than 100 mph, all four came in the sixth and seventh innings.
But defense behind him allowed Gonzales to roll through those having retired 11 consecutive batters.
Servais said how Gonzales’ quick tempo helps the defense out.
“It’s something I’ve always tried to work on,” said Gonzales, the former two-way player at Gonzaga. “Playing a position before, I know how frustrating it can be when the pitcher is lollygagging around, waiting to make pitches. I know the fans don’t want to see that either. I just try to keep it fast.”
Let’s look at how the Mariners’ four newly named All-Stars performed.
Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Nelson Cruz each had hits. Haniger and Segura both scored runs and Cruz drove in two runs with his single in the fourth inning.
Closer Edwin Diaz sat down Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons and Mike Trout in order in the bottom of the ninth inning for his 36th save. He threw 10 pitches – all fastballs. And topped out at 99 mph.
“I think they were looking too much for my slider,” Diaz told 710-AM radio. “So I worked my fastball low and away and in and up.”
He got Ohtani to whiff pretty good on one of those inside fastballs for a strikeout.
But maybe the biggest performer was the Mariners’ No. 9 hitter, catcher David Freitas. More on that in a bit.
Play of the game
Maybe this was about who would draw first blood.
Marco Gonzales hadn’t allowed a hit, neither had Angels starter Jamie Barria until there were two outs in the third inning.
David Freitas seemed due for his first career home run. He obliged by sending the first pitch he saw out to center field and just off of and over Mike Trout’s glove for the dinger.
Marco Gonzales didn’t allow an Angels hit until a comebacker off of the back of his left leg in the fourth inning. And the other hit was pretty cheap, too. Mike Trout hit a bloop single right after.
But Gonzales refocused, got Justin Upton to strike out and Albert Pujols hit a weak groundout and that was the only threat the Angels had against him.
Seven scoreless innings. Two hits. No walks. Not bad.
David Freitas not only has his first major-league home run, but he reached base three times.
The catcher finished 2-for-2 with a walk, single and the homer and raised his batting average to .217. He was in Triple-A Tacoma until Mike Zunino went to the 10-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his ankle that’s expected to keep him out until after the All-Star break.
That was a right-handed heavy Angels lineup and the lefty Marco Gonzales handled them fine.
“Marco has a lot of weapons,” Servais said. “He can pitch both sides of the plate with his cutter (a pitch he re-added this year). The changeup is a weapon for him. He got enough curveballs going in there tonight to keep them honest with that pitch, too.
“It’s a combination of things that make him really good. He’s having a heck of a first half. That’s probably his last outing before the break and he certainly had a great way to end it.”