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Mariners’ Marco Gonzales shares how LeBlanc, Leake helped in his breakout 2018 season

Mariners lefty Marco Gonzales says "the sky's the limit" with his cutter. (AP)

Marco Gonzales enters 2019 as the Mariners’ top returning starting pitcher, coming off his first full MLB season in which he went 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA, including a five-start stretch from June 29 to July 29 where he posted a 5-0 record with a 1.57 ERA.

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If you ask him, Gonzales would tell you he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in now without the help of veteran rotation-mates Wade LeBlanc and Mike Leake.

In an interview with the Mariners Hot Stove Show on 710 ESPN Seattle, Gonzales pointed out that 2018 was a year in which he learned a ton about how to use his pitch repertoire, and a lot of that had to do with watching and talking to his fellow Mariners starters.

“That was the culmination of really learning from other guys – guys like Wade LeBlanc, James Paxton, and probably the most important guy that people may not know is Mike Leake,” Gonzales told Mike Blowers, Rick Rizzs and Shannon Drayer. “(Leake is) a guy that just has balance and feel for all of his pitches. Being able to watch a Mike Leake bullpen every week, those are things that I really learned from and put into my own game.

“You learn how to kinda push and pull the hitters in and off the plate and keep guys off balance, and I learned how my pitches kind of work like that, which pitches work with each other and which pitches don’t. … Putting that all together helped me put together a strong balance and repertoire to attack hitters.”

Last year Gonzales found great success with his cutter, a pitch he had to re-introduce after initially leaving it on the shelf in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2017. And when it came to how to use it, he credits the crafty LeBlanc for giving him some direction.

“Wade LeBlanc really showed me what it meant to throw to both sides of the plate, and also up and down and elevate that, too,” he said.

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Gonzales is excited to see what else he can do with the cutter in 2019.

“I think that’s such a fun pitch for me to throw because it’s such an aggressive-feel pitch,” he said. “It’s one that you can just really rear back and kind of just let loose on, throw it to a certain region and not necessarily be so pinpoint with it. … I think it’s just the sky’s the limit with that pitch. … Really dynamic pitch for me and I hope it keeps getting better. I’m gonna keep working at it.”

While Gonzales began 2018 with a short leash as the Mariners limited him to facing opposing lineups just two times through in his earlier starts, he started to regularly make it into and through the seventh inning, even turning in a complete game on June 29. And when it comes to his training this offseason, he’s put an emphasis on making sure he’ll be able to keep going deep into games.

“Last year was a big learning year for me. I know that I really kind of put everything together, my first full season back after Tommy John, so it meant a lot to me to come out strong and finish the season in a strong way, too,” Gonzales said. “Going into the offseason this year, I really wanted to just balance my routine out and find a constant in there that I can carry with me throughout the entire year this year. Really putting a focus on power, strength, becoming a little more explosive, and also trying to find a good routine that’s going to help me to stay durable and strong throughout the entire year.”

While Gonzales has spent time working with the Mariners’ strength and conditioning team at T-Mobile Park, he’s also taken to a different park in Seattle to train this offseason.

You can hear the full interview with Gonzales, including the story about pitching on Capitol Hill, embedded in this post or in podcast form at this link.

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