RailCats: Marco Gonzalez serves any bullpen role the team needs
By Michael Osipoff firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-2485 July 13, 2013 7:10PM
Updated: August 15, 2013 7:07AM
GARY — Some pitchers alter their approach depending on their role.
Not Marco Gonzalez.
His plan is straightforward.
“For me, it doesn’t matter if they need me in the seventh inning or the ninth inning — I have the same mindset,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just focused on doing my job, shutting it down and holding the lead.
“At any point during the game, I’m going in with the same mentality.”
In his two seasons in the RailCats bullpen, Gonzalez has worked in the late innings. But exactly in what capacity has varied.
Having been out of baseball in 2011, he signed with the RailCats two weeks into last season, and spent much of it as a set-up man. But when then-closer Chris Allen was traded to Winnipeg on Aug. 6, along with Hammond graduate Mike Coles, Gonzalez took over that spot. And after the deal, he proceeded to record seven of his team-high 10 saves, in less than a month.
Especially with how he finished last season, posting a 2.41 ERA in his last 18 appearances covering 182/3 innings, he seemed in line to reprise his closer role this season. But that was before former major leaguer Clay Zavada factored into the equation, initially joining the RailCats in spring training as a non-roster invitee.
And when the season started, it was back to setting up for Gonzalez.
Now, with Zavada having signed with the San Diego Padres organization last week, the 29-year-old right-hander is back in the closer mix, along with Ian Durham.
“Marco and Ian will share that ninth-inning role, just going with the freshest guy available,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said. “We believe in both guys.
“We’ve asked a lot of him (Gonzalez), at times going two-plus innings, which you don’t see a lot anymore out of guys in the late innings. He’s really gone above and beyond. We wore him down a little bit — him and Clay both — so he hasn’t been quite as sharp as he was at the end of last year, when he took off and really established himself as the guy. But he’s going to throw strikes, and he’s going to get outs. He reminds me a lot of Tony Cogan (the former major leaguer who had a franchise-record 25 saves for the RailCats in 2007, and later started for them) — he might give up a hit, but he’s going to have a nice, quiet ninth, which is great for the manager.”
Gonzalez honed his skills during four seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, reaching Triple-A Memphis in 2009. He pitched the following season in the Northern League with Lake County, “a rough year” as he dealt with both shoulder and elbow problems. So Gonzalez took off the 2011 season completely to rest his “hurting” arm, he said.
“I certainly missed it,” Gonzalez said. “Playing (professionally) since 2006 and then not playing, it was difficult, but it was something I had to do. It made me even more excited to get back.”
He rehabbed physically, recharged mentally.
And by the time the 2012 season rolled around, he was healthy; he was ready — eager — to pitch again. So he made phone calls. He sent email.
But he didn’t hear back until Tagert reached out.
Gonzalez had been working out at his old high school in Denver, and the team’s pitching coach was friends with a friend of RailCats outfielder Mike Massaro. Tagert, too, had remembered Gonzalez from the pitcher’s time with Lake County, and remembered how much the RailCats staff liked him; he re-checked their scouting report, and conferred with some contacts.
“I’m always interested in those players that are coming back from a year or two hiatus, because I have to believe that player is committed to playing, he has something to prove that can benefit the ballclub,” Tagert said. “Very few come back unless they’re sure and prepared; it’s rare they show up 50 pounds heavier than before — it just doesn’t happen. It means so much for them to be playing again. So with guys like Marco, and you look at Christian Vitters, it’s worked out very well for us.
“With Marco, he’s just a pro through and through. I love the way he prepares every day, and interacts with his teammates. I love that he pitches the same if it’s 11-5 or 11-10. His demeanor on the mound, in the dugout, it’s perfect for us, perfect for me.”