JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- In January this year, Marco Gonzales was speaking longingly of taking the mound in a meaningful game. He had battled a shoulder impingement for nearly the entire season in 2015, seemingly slipping further away from his exciting debut the year prior.
Gonzales’ 2014 was like a baseball fairytale. He ascended to the majors straight from Double-A, debuting in his home state of Colorado against the Rockies just one year after he was drafted. He struck out Colorado superstar Troy Tulowitzki in his first inning as a major league pitcher and doubled in his first career at bat.
In the postseason, he threw 5.1 scoreless innings of relief over five games before finally letting runners cross home in his last appearance. He capped the year by getting engaged, and when he returned to St. Louis in January of 2015 and said the year couldn’t have been better if he scripted it himself.
A year later, he was talking about simply staying positive.
“It’s a lot mentally more than anything,” he said at the 2016 Winter Warm Up. “The rehab process is very light. You’re doing two exercises for a half hour and then you’re done for the day. So sitting around and not letting your mind wander a little bit, that’s tough. I’m very thankful for my family, friends and teammates for their support.”
So when he took the mound Saturday against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium, a minor moment to most was a meaningful waypoint for Gonzales.
“It’s gratifying for sure. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been my goal to pitch in a game again,” he said. “To get back out there and for the arm to feel good, to recover well, this week to put in the work and get back out there, I’m excited for it.”
The lefty threw 45 pitches in 2.2 innings, giving up four hits, all singles. He popped up Giancarlo Stanton, freezing him on a change before coaxing a soft fly ball.
“I thought it went pretty well overall. Locating my pitches early and establishing the zone was my goal out of the gate,” he said. “From there, battling hitters and working counts, throwing my offspeed for strikes.
Mike Matheny was pleased with the 24-year-old’s use of new pitches, especially his cutter. Last spring, the team had Gonzales work on developing several new tools, which included a sinker, curveball and the aforementioned cutter, in hopes of enhancing his effectiveness as a control pitcher. Having had time to familiarize himself with the new offerings, this spring is about learning their application.
“Having them in my repertoire and fine-tuning them this year, not just picking them up for the first time, is a huge plus,” he said, adding he’s getting a feel for when to go to which pitches in at bats. “To go out there and feel confident with my sinker and my curveball and cutter feels good.”
What feels best is going out there in the first place.
After missing all of June and fighting for comfort the rest of the way, simply being able to focus on the pitch, rather than his body’s reaction to it, is a relief. Even with the off-kilter offseason spent rehabbing and strengthening, Gonzales is satisfied with where his body and pitches are at this spring. It may not be as picture perfect as 2014, but at least he’s happy to be there.
“I’m where I want to be. I think there are little things to work on here and there, but for a good starting point, I’m where I want to be,” he said.