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VOL. 132 | NO. 111 | Monday, June 5, 2017

After Surgery, Redbirds Lefthander Gonzales Savoring Every Pitch

By Don Wade

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The rise was quick. So was the fall. The St. Louis Cardinals used the 19th overall pick of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft on Gonzaga University lefthander Marco Gonzales. It was the first time since 1994, when the Cardinals drafted Wake Forest southpaw Bret Wagner, they had spent a first-round selection on a left-handed pitcher.

Memphis Redbirds pitcher Marco Gonzales has been effective since his return from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. A first-round draft pick by St. Louis in 2013, he could help the Cardinals this season as a starter or reliever. (Memphis Redbirds)

Arm problems ended Wagner’s career at age 25. He never pitched above Double-A.

Gonzales, now 25, was in the majors in 2014 at age 22. He went 4-2 with a 4.15 ERA over 34.2 innings. The beginning of many good things to come, or so it seemed when he entered the 2015 season as the Cardinals’ No. 1 prospect and No. 50 overall, according to Baseball America.

But Gonzales would throw less than 15 professional innings in 2015 because of arm problems. Ultimately, he would have Tommy John surgery and miss all of the 2016 season.

Last Tuesday, May 30, he made his fifth start since returning and his fourth for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds; he made his first start at High A Palm Beach back on May 14. Against the Iowa Cubs at AutoZone Park, Gonzales completed seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits with six strikeouts and no walks. He got the loss, but it was anything but a defeat.

He has a 2.56 ERA in the five minor league starts, having allowed just 22 hits in 31.2 innings with 28 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .193 against him and his WHIP is 0.88.

“I’ve really just kind of hit a reset button and forgot about the guy I used to be,” Gonzales said. “I’m just trying to be me, whatever that is, and get outs as fast as I can.”

In three of his four Triple-A starts, he has done just that.

Redbirds pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd praised Gonzales for the effective use of his change-up against Iowa’s right-handed heavy lineup, and with his ability to move his fastball.

“He’s doing a good job of throwing some two-seam fastballs, front door, or inside on right-handed hitters,” Eversgerd said after the May 30 start. “And he moves his changeup around, not just throwing his sinker on the plate but to both sides. Excellent command of his heater today.”

His fastball was sitting at 91 miles per hour, but he has been as high as 93 mph since his return. Not that it’s all, or even mostly, about velocity.

“Starting over with a new throwing program, taking six or seven months off after surgery, your philosophy of pitching is a little bit different,” said Gonzales. “When you come back, you throw all fastballs to start. When you’re facing hitters for the first seven or eight live bullpens, you don’t get to throw off-speed.

“So I think I’m a more efficient pitcher now because I can pitch fastball in and out of the zone and my two-seamer has been better than it was before. But the changeup carries over, curveball’s a little better, and my competitive edge has always been there.”

Gonzales, who is 6-1 and 195 pounds, also scores points with his pitching coach and manager Stubby Clapp for his focus, for not worrying about expectations and staying in the moment.

“He’s done a nice job getting back into the groove of things and just being Marco,” Clapp said. “He’s got a great presence on the mound.”

Said Eversgerd: “He’s just a pro the way he goes about it. His demeanor is great on the mound. It’s a game face from first pitch to last.”

A game face that, at some point, the Cardinals will want back in St. Louis either in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Gonzales, for his part, isn’t about to forget where he was a year ago, trying to rehab just so he could throw a baseball again.

“You hear a lot of guys talk about how grateful they are after going through surgery and that’s very true,” he said. “That hit close to my heart. When you think the game can be taken away from you, it really slows things down for you and makes you appreciate every day.”

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