JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- Marco Gonzales, starting in place of Jaime Garcia against the Red Sox Monday, had his final Grapefruit League outing clipped short after his pitch count ballooned in the second inning.
Following his 51-pitch performance, the Cardinals optioned the lefty to Triple-A Memphis, a move designed to keep him building toward a starting role. Gonzales, recovering from a shoulder impingement that cost him most of the 2015 season, has rebounded to pitch in five spring games, starting two of them.
The Cardinals are moving into the final weeks of spring, meaning starter's innings will fall to the regular rotation members. That scarcity, combined with Gonzales' need to strengthen and stretch out his arm, meant the best place for the Gonzaga grad's development is in Triple-A where he can get steady and predictable work.
He will now head the Memphis rotation and be the first in line for the fill-in starter job with the Cardinals. He leaves having shown the coaching staff he's comfortable with his new pitches, and has the strength to fend off any recurrence of his injury.
"He's had a good spring and he's shown he's healthy and strong and right on track," said David Bell, who is filling in for Mike Matheny while the manager is away on family business.
News of Gonzales' move to the minors did not reach reporters until the lefty had left the complex for the day.
In his final outing with the big club, Gonzales was sequencing his pitches with comfort and creativity early and knocked out a clean first inning.
“That’s something I’ve been working on for a long time. Every time out, trying to do something different. Different combinations of pitches, just trying to explore my repertoire as much as a can,” he said. “Show some different things and show I’m capable of throwing any pitch in any situation.”
The second inning provided plenty of situational diversity, as the lefty loaded the bases twice with walks and gave up two hits. The free bases sent his pitch count climbing toward the single-inning cutoff mark of 30 pitches, a number Cardinal coaching staff uses as a barometer for when to pull a young pitcher.
“I was just trying to be a little too fine and touch the corners,” Gonzales said afterward.
His precision was also undermined by what appeared to be an extremely tight strike zone. Gonzales opted not to comment on home plate umpire Nic Lentz’s calls, but the Cardinal fans at Roger Dean stadium certainly gave scathing vocal reviews.
"It looked like he was making some close pitches that were just missing. It's hard to tell from where we are, but they did look close," Bell said. "At the end of the two innings, he had thrown too many pitches in the second inning, but we told him 'Hey, you look good. You look strong.'"
Spring success is gauged by accomplishing specific objectives for the day, week and month. Gonzales wanted to prove he could throw his new pitches when and where he wanted, and Monday he sequenced back-to-back curveballs, threw cutters behind in the count, and generally seemed at ease with whatever Yadier Molina threw down.
“I felt conviction with all my pitches” he said, taking what positivity he could from an abbreviated fifth and final spring outing with the club.
Gonzales was the only player optioned Monday, and with the move, the Cardinals now have 40 men on the spring roster.
The maneuver also makes this the third season Gonzales has been optioned out of the majors. That means the club can move him up and down as much as they want this year, but if they want to move him to the minors next season he'll be subject to the waiver system.