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Mariners LHP Marco Gonzales
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Marco Gonzales ready to lead young Mariners pitching staff

Mariners LHP Marco Gonzales is Seattle's leader for pitchers, a role he's comfortable in. (Getty)

In 2019, a Mariners pitcher not named Félix Hernández was the opening day starter for Seattle. That pitcher was lefty Marco Gonzales.

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You can expect Gonzales, who turns 28 in February, to get the opening day nod again this year as he has been Seattle’s best starting pitcher the last two seasons and Hernández has signed with the Atlanta Braves.

Gonzales had a career year in 2019, finishing with a 16-13 record, a 3.99 ERA and was one of just eight pitchers in the majors to throw 200 or more innings. He is also now the de facto leader of the Seattle pitching staff.

“He’s doing everything you’d want to do when he takes the ball,” manager Scott Servais said at the Mariners’ annual spring training media luncheon. “But even sometimes more important with this group on the other four days when he’s not on the mound, he’s doing the right thing. And Marco understands where we’re at. He’s been reaching out the guys, he knows there’s going to be young staff and he’s ready to lead it. So we’ve got a good one for us right there.”

Even though Gonzales has been a full-time starter at the major league level for just two seasons, he’s embracing the leadership role on a team that will be one of the youngest in all of the MLB.

“It’s taken some time to get used to that role and I’m not trying to let that get in my head, just being myself,” Gonzales told reporters. “Obviously there’s a lot of young guys and new guys that need guidance and need that identity when they come here to know who we are and what we’re about. Myself and a few other guys who have been here I think that’s our main goal, to establish ourselves so when we gain new guys moving forward, we have a clear path.”

Two of those young pitchers who may need guidance are left hander Justus Sheffield and righty Justin Dunn. Both were acquired via trade last offseason and are among the team’s top prospects.

“I think (those two) are the two guys you should be watching for and seeing how they bounce back this second year and what they’ve learned and what they bring to the table and really see them settle in and gain confidence,” Gonzales said.

Dunn, acquired from the New York Mets, was one of the best pitchers in double-A and made his MLB debut in September. He struggled in that first outing, getting just two outs while giving up five walks and two runs. He did better after that, and gave up no more runs in 6 more innings to end the season.

Sheffield was the centerpiece of a deal with the New York Yankees. He had made a brief MLB debut in 2018 with New York, but struggled with command for the triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. After a demotion to double-A, his command improved and he earned a promotion to Seattle. In 36 innings, Sheffield went 0-1 with a 5.50 ERA and struck out 37 while walking 18.

Both Dunn and Sheffield said Gonzales has been checking in on them in the offseason.

“It’s definitely a big help having Marco in that rotation,” Sheffield said.

Dunn said Gonzales sets an example for young players in who they should strive to be.

“On the field, be more consistent,” Dunn said. “That’s, I think, the biggest thing you see here. That’s what makes Marco so special is every time he touches the ball, you know what you’re going to get from him, so I’m just trying to be that same guy where when (Servais) hands me the ball every five days or whenever that time may come, he knows what he’s going to get, the team knows what they’re going to get and give them a chance to win every time out.”

While both Dunn and Sheffield have at least some major league experience under their belts, there will likely be more pitchers making their MLB debuts for the Mariners throughout 2020. Gonzales is ready to take those players under his wing.

“I know that feeling of getting that call and trying to figure out who you’re going to be at the next level and be in the MLB,” Gonzales said. “I do have a lot of experience I can share with these guys coming up like, ‘Hey, this is what this transition looks like’ or what to expect. Conversations we’ll have in camp of when you get up here, this is what to do, this is who to look for, this is who’s going to help you. I just think those are things we can try and prepare for.”

Expect an even more tight-knit pitching staff in 2020, as Gonzales said they’re going to make it a point to watch each other throw more so they know what to expect and look for during games.

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