JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- It’s been a long road back for Marco Gonzales. After a debut that saw him strike out Troy Tulowitzki at the height of the shortstop’s powers in 2014, the lefty enters the early days of 2017 knowing he’ll miss Opening Day.
“There’s a lot of excitement around here and everything, and I’m definitely getting involved in it, but I know my focus has to be on the rehab, because I’m still technically in rehab,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m not getting ready for the season or Opening Day. I still have an arm care program so trying to focus on that is the new task I’m trying to master.”
Gonzales’ first action likely won’t come until late May. After shoulder and chest problems in 2015 and a season lost to Tommy John surgery last year, Gonzales feels every one of the 975 days between his debut and Thursday’s bullpen session; one that looked much more familiar than anything we’ve seen in recent memory.
“Today was a pretty good step. Had a little more intensity, a little more conviction in my delivery,” he said after throwing 30 pitches under supervision. “I’m just building up and not having to think about timing, getting the ball down. Those things are coming more naturally.”
The freedom to think about pitching- about ONLY pitching- is a luxury he hasn’t been afforded in some time. Gonzales can finally focus on the intricacies of execution rather than the broad strokes of injury and impact.
His plan still relies on how he feels, but he can finally begin work on something other than just getting healthy.
“We have a timeline spread out of what the schedule is going to look like going forward. But with this throwing process, it depends on how you feel the next day. That will determine whether you speed things up, slow down, or keep it the same. We’re playing it by ear in a sense, bu we have the template in place,” he said.
Staying that course is a tough ask, especially for a young pitcher eager to make up for lost time. It becomes especially difficult in spring. All around Gonzales, players- the ones in his former shoes and the ones he hopes to one day be- are readying for action. They’re competing for spots, making road maps for the future and developing new plans of attack. For them, live baseball is a matter of weeks; soon, a matter of days.
Gonzales can’t fully participate in that wave of enthusiasm. He must be measured. He must be precise. Anything else could derail his plan and cost him more innings in a career that has yet to blossom.
Still, he’s had practice at channeling that energy.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 months. I’m pretty dialed in,” he said. “I know what to expect and I know what my future holds right now. Right now it’s about keeping that tunnel vision.”
If his resolve holds, Gonzales could be a subject of St. Louis conversations once again. With the Cardinals down one top arm (Alex Reyes) and relying on a few others that are returning from injury, insurance is desperately needed. Gonzales has a path back to the majors, despite the setbacks in recent years. To get back to The Show, the one with the highest stakes and biggest audiences, he needs to walk a less exciting path; one forged on the back fields of Jupiter when no one is watching.