SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners’ Gonzales looks ready for Opening Day; Smith entertains in return

Jul 18, 2020, 10:35 PM
Mariners OF Mallex Smith...
Mariners OF Mallex Smith went 3-5 in his first intrasquad game of Summer Camp. (Getty)
(Getty)

Two intrasquad starts down and none to go for Mariners lefty Marco Gonzales, whose next time on a stadium mound will be at Minute Maid Park on Opening Day. Had things gone poorly he would have had five days to think about it and one bullpen to try and work through the problems. Fortunately, that will not be the case.

Good news comes with strong outings by Dunn, Sheffield

“I feel ready to go, my body feels strong,” said Gonzales following his outing.

Gonzales faced what will most likely be the Mariners’ Opening Day lineup minus perhaps Jake Fraley, who did not play. While he gave up two runs on five hits, the first run was manufactured following a Mallex Smith popup bunt and advance on a wild pitch. He struck out three and did not walk anyone in 4 innings and aside from an Evan White double, he didn’t allow a ton of hard contact either.

“He’s a real weapon for us on the field and he swings the bat really, really well,” Gonzales said of the Mariners’ rookie first baseman. “Definitely a tough out and he needs to make it tough on other guys. I’m tired of facing him.”

Gonzales was able to mix in all of his pitches and saw improvement with his curveball. On a pitch count of 50, he was scheduled to go 3 innings but was able to go the full 4. While in a previous interview he didn’t seem to be a huge fan of the six-man rotation, on Saturday he did see at least one benefit.

“My number one priority is to eat up as many innings as I can and go out and win a ballgame,” he said. “With a six-man rotation we get a little rest. I wanted to push it a little more, get over 50 pitches. My goal is for 5- to 6-plus (innings in Houston), as many as I can go.”

Because of the short buildup, Mariners starters will be on pitch counts early in the season. While he didn’t get up to the 80-85 pitches he might have built up to in a normal Spring Training, Gonzales felt he was able to get enough out of Summer Camp both in terms of buildup, and competition.

“I think it’s different in a sense because we don’t have fans, it’s not a normal game setting,” he said. “At the same time when I see Vogey (Mariners designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach) step in the box, or any one of those guys, something about it makes me want to switch to another gear and get after it. Kudos to my teammates and to the way that we run this camp. I think we have been able to simulate some good competition.”

The competition wasn’t limited to those who will likely break camp with the Major League team. Top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert started for the Steelheads and gave another tantalizing look at what we could see in the future. For those who are concerned that top prospect Jarred Kelenic won’t get much out of time in Tacoma this year, check out the sequence he saw from Gilbert in the second inning.

 

The game also marked the return of the three players who were late to clear intake testing. Mallex Smith, Dylan Moore and Joe Hudson all saw action in the game with Smith and Moore starting and Hudson being a late-inning replacement behind the plate.

While Hudson is likely taxi squad bound with a good chance of being a traveling reserve player and Moore will be given a chance to win a utility spot, the club, which has been short of true outfielders, needs Smith to be ready Opening Day. His 3-for-5 performance playing all 9 innings in his first game back had to be a welcome sight for Mariners manager Scott Servais. And Smith’s interview following the game was a gift for the reporters.

While he wouldn’t divulge why he was a late arrival in camp, saying he preferred to “follow the team’s protocol” and not specify while he was out, it was clear he was grateful to be back.

“More than anything I just felt happy,” he said of the experience of finally getting back out on the field. “You sit out for so long, you start thinking about life after baseball with the whole COVID just extended period, to actually get out there and play a competitive game, I was more happy than anything. At a time like this, you don’t realize how good you got it until it got (taken away) and these months we haven’t been playing. To get here and get start up it’s really rewarding to me.”

Smith opted to wear a mask while in the field and at the plate. He even wore it for his interview, a first in Summer Camp.

“You probably won’t catch me without it,” he said. “It just makes sense. The best way to make sure that everybody else is healthy is to make sure that you are healthy and if you are healthy then you have a better shot at keeping everybody else healthy and I just think that’s the smart thing to do.”

In playing catch up with Smith, we learned that he approached the shutdown in a unique manner as well, electing to stay mostly in a tent on his parents’ wooded property in Florida.

“My mom actually begged me to come inside. I actually appreciated being outside in a tent,” said Smith.

As for the creature comforts of the bivouac, WiFi from the house was not one of them.

“That was another reason I was out there. Stay away from as much technology and radiation as possible. Just enjoy the peace and serenity of the outside and the crickets and whatever else was rattling in the bushes.”

If the 3-for-5 performance in his first game back was any indication, perhaps the outdoor living was beneficial to the Mariners outfielder.

“I would say it’s pretty rewarding,” he said of the initial returns. “Maybe the electrons from the earth put some good ju-ju in my body, so let’s see how this goes on as we continue to progress through the season.”

Does that mean he’s going to sleep in a tent in Seattle? To be honest, it was late, we didn’t get that far, but stay tuned.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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Mariners’ Gonzales looks ready for Opening Day; Smith entertains in return