If 1B Ryan Healy could hit a baseball with the same approach as starting pitcher Marco Gonzales throws a baseball, the Mariners would solve their offensive slump in one batter.
That may be a slight exaggeration, but after watching Healy hit a pair of three-run homers Sunday, the imagination does run a bit. He has 20 homers, but was otherwise slumping so badly that manager Scott Servais benched him Saturday.
“He knows,” Servais said after the 8-2 win over the White Sox (box) that gave Seattle (60-40) its first series win in four tries. “It’s not about physical ability. It’s about approach. He knows he has to slow himself down, and not put too much pressure on himself.”
Time after time, Gonzales demonstrates the virtue of mastering consistency of approach. He is metronomic in his mechanics, yet versatile in his choices. He is so locked in to repeating the moment that he didn’t realize he had a no-hitter through five innings.
“It was actually pretty good for my psyche that I didn’t know,” he said. “I thought the ball to (SS Jean Segura) was a hit.”
That second-inning grounder from Matt Davidson was ruled an error. But if it were called a first-degree felony, Gonzales wouldn’t have cared. The 26-year-old from Gonzaga rarely gets ruffled, angry or distracted.
He has neither overpowering speed nor wicked stuff, but he pitches with a Greg Maddux-like wisdom regarding command of himself and the strike zone. That explains much of why he won his staff-high 11th game after 6.1 innings of four hits, two runs and a walk.
“There’s a reason a lot of good defensive plays get made behind him,” Servais said. “He pitches quickly, throws the ball over the plate and attacks.”
A key is the ability to repeat the motion so that the batter gains no tells about what kind of pitch is imminent.
“He’s a really good athlete, one of the best on the team,” Servais said. “I know everyone’s concerned about an innings limit or him running out of gas (Gonzales has pitched 196 big-league innings in his career, 120 this season). I love the way this guy works between starts. He’s got plenty left in the tank.
“When he’s able to repeat his motion, all of his pitches look the same coming out of his hand. He controls all his pitches very well. They all come out of the window the same way. It’s hard for hitters to pick up.”
It’s part of a technique called tunneling, in which pitches travel a similar path to the batter before breaking late, cutting the chances of being struck well.
“I’ve learned to get good at speeding them up and slowing them down,” Gonzales said. “I’ve always tried to work on repeating my motion. There’s days when I don’t feel that way, and there’s days when I feel exceptional.
“I just want to keep the squad in the dugout and keep rolling.”
Gonzales has been exceptional lately. In his past four starts, he’s 4-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 24 strikeouts and three walks. He entered Sunday tied for fourth in the American League with a walk ratio of 1.7 per nine innings. He’s had quality starts in eight of his past 11 outings.
Conversely, Healy is an athlete of high highs and low lows, which is one of the worst sins of commission by baseball players burdened with a 162-game seson. He is the fifth player in club history to have a pair of three-run dingers in the same game, and probably the first to do it after a non-injury benching.
Despite three hits Sunday, he’s hitting .244 and in distinct jeopardy of losing the full-time job to Robinson Cano when the star returns from his 80-game suspension Aug. 14.
The Mariners are clearly better defensively with Dee Gordon at Cano’s position at second base, but need to get Cano’s bat in the lineup, where he isn’t going to displace Nelson Cruz as DH.
Healy has read and heard about the potential change, so was prepared for the question post-game.
“Whenever Cano comes back, I don’t care,” he said. “I want to compete, I want to win, and I want to get this team where it hasn’t gone before.
“I know I’m going to be a big part of that. I’m excited for the opportunity. My job is to make (management’s) job as hard as possible.”
The bluntness was refreshing. Obviously, trades, injuries and slumps can change many things over the next three weeks. But should the status remains quo, general manager Jerry Dipoto would love to choose options from a position of wealth rather than desperation.
And if Healy is looking for an option, he could do worse than to sit down with Gonzales for a chat about how to navigate from night to day in a moment’s notice.
Healy is fairly typical for today’s game– all or nothing; home runs or strikeouts. Zunino is the biggest offender in that regard. I am not all in with the thought that Cano will play first base for six weeks. Heredia is better than Gordon in CF, but not THAT much better, and Gordon is a far better hitter. And, Gordon is better at second than Cano, but again, not THAT much better. Unless Cano has invested in a first base glove in the past several weeks, it makes sense that he returns to second.
They have already said it’s not easy for gordon to just switch back to a foreign position in center. In the playoffs gordon needs to be in 2b mode so that’s where he will play the rest of the year. Between 1b 2b and DH cano will be an everyday player but other than rest days his bulk will be at 1b
Nothing will be easy in this shuffle, but that’s why top players get top money.
Cano’s lateral range at second is diminished, so first base makes defensive sense. But Heredia’s offense has faded to the point of liability. It will be tempting to put Gordon in CF at least part time to get his bat and Cano/Healy in the game at the same time.
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