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Mariners Marco Gonzales
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Marco Gonzales, Mariners’ tone-setter, vows Seattle is ‘prepared to make a statement’ in AL West

Marco Gonzales will make his third straight opening day start for the Mariners on Friday. (Getty)

Marco Gonzales has little interest in step-back plans, the prioritizing of development, and the perhaps lessened expectations for the Mariners’ 2021 season that comes with those things.

“I’ve never been a fan of being told when it’s OK to win,” Gonzales said recently after a morning spring training practice in Peoria, Ariz.

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Sitting atop the Mariners rotation for a third straight year and ready to take the ball for the Mariners’ opening night game against San Francisco, Gonzales established himself as a team leader in the most trying of seasons last year and has earned the right to declare a season path not just for himself but his teammates, as well.

Entering his fifth season with Seattle and now six years separated from his last taste of the postseason – which came as a rookie with the Cardinals) – the idea of playoff baseball at T-Mobile Park this October does not seem outrageous to him as he looks around his clubhouse.

“I think I see a lot of guys who are really hungry to prove themselves,” he said. “Everyone is working and going about their business with a little chip on their shoulder this year. We feel like we have a special group on and off the field. We all like being around each other; nobody is being forced to work hard here. Everybody wants to. That’s a good thing to have in the clubhouse.”

Strong work ethic? Check. Need to prove themselves? Check. Chips on shoulders? Check. Boring? Oh, heck no.

If this is the personality of the 2021 team, it is not hard to figure out which block they came off of.

“I mean, if guys are taking that, that’s great,” Gonzales said with a laugh. “I’ve spent the majority of my baseball career proving people wrong, and (with) people who believe in me, proving them right. The way that I have gone about my business, I’ve pushed guys around me to find what motivates them and hold onto that whether it is someone who didn’t believe in you or you just have something to prove. I think that mentality is contagious.”

Catcher Tom Murphy would like to see others take more from Gonzales than just the “prove ’em wrong” attitude. In his eyes, Gonzales’ success in getting to where he is today – a top 20 starter in baseball by most metrics – is about much more than being driven by slights.

“The ability to understand who you are as a pitcher and as a person is something that is as powerful as anything anyone could give you,” he said. “To understand that is one thing. To accept it and to really excel at that is another thing, and that’s what Marco is really chasing in my opinion.”

It is on display every time he takes the hill. His preparation is said to be second to none in the Mariners clubhouse. His game plan, simple – 95 mph fastballs and wicked breaking pitches not necessary. Find his opponent’s weakness – it’s readily available in the scouting report – and attack, unmercifully.

“I think he has a firm understanding that he doesn’t need to be more or less than anything he has been these past couple years,” said Murphy. “It is now really just about honing in and making subtle tweaks is his path.”

Gonzales will have extra time to make those tweaks as the Mariners will once again employ a six-man rotation this season. It’s extra time Gonzales does not want, and he hopes the Mariners will find the need to do away with it later in the season.

“I stand by the fact that championship teams, at the end of the year you have got to have your best guys out there as often as you can,” Gonzales said, noting that his thoughts would be no surprise to his bosses. “I think it is fair to say our best guys don’t need to be pitching just once a week. We need to be out there more often. When it comes to playoffs, you’ve got your three best guys out there that you are running with.

“We need to be working into that system eventually, but for the increased workload that’s going to happen this year and for the young guys, I understand why we are doing it. My plan is to take it and run with it. The extra recovery day, I’m going to use that and just go as deep into games as I can.”

Gonzales is willing to back up his words with performance, and not just his. With younger position players still adjusting to the big leagues, he believes the starting staff can be leaned on early.

“Our mission is to go out and set the tone for every game that we are in and really be the leaders of this core group, this team,” he said. “We’re proud to go out there and set the tone for this team and I think everybody has that mentality in this group. Guys who have been up or haven’t been here, they’re looking to prove themselves, and I think that is a dangerous mentality to have.”

If Gonzales continues to see the work put in that he saw while the team was in Arizona, and most importantly if he continues to see the team come together, Gonzales believes the Mariners’ start date for winning can be pushed up.

“I think we are going to surprise a lot of people,” he said. “I think we are going to be the team that where people look up half way through the year and say, ‘Where did they come from?’ And we are prepared to make a statement in this division. I stand by that.”

Follow Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

More Mariners 2021 season previews from 710Sports.com

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Taylor Trammell wins left field job, Mariners rotation is set
Mariners CF Kyle Lewis’ availability for opening day in jeopardy
Kelenic won’t make roster but focused on getting call ‘as soon as possible’
Mitch Haniger is back in form, and he’s leading not just by example
Unafraid to speak his mind, Kelenic makes no apologies for who he is

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