Pro baseball

Elder statesman in the pen vital in championship push

2013-09-14T20:00:00Z 2013-09-15T02:18:12Z Elder statesman in the pen vital in championship pushHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com nwitimes.com
September 14, 2013 8:00 pm  • 

WICHITA, Kan. | When Marco Gonzalez got the call from the pen to close Friday's Game 3 against Wichita, it was his first full inning since Aug. 4 against St. Paul.

The veteran missed a month with a muscle strain, then he was activated just as the postseason started.

He had 10 saves for the RailCats in 2012, and eight in 2013 prior to his injury.

While he was out for rehab, the RailCats added older players to help add age to a rookie bullpen.

"It's invaluable to have Marco's presence down there, even more so when we have the ability to put him in the game," manager Greg Tagert said. "When we lost Clay (Zavada) first and then Marco, he wasn't traveling with us, and then the elder statesmen in there became Ian Durham and he only had two short seasons under his belt."

A farm hand in the St. Louis organization, Gonzalez relies on his routine. He said teaching that to the four rookie relievers has been just one part of his job this season.

"Coming up through the ranks with the Cardinals, I've been able to be around a lot of good players, good pitchers and good relievers," Gonzalez said. "I won't say much, but show more by example. You have to emphasize a lot on routine. The emphasis has to be on the team and being ready to go every night."

Gonzalez was signed by the RailCats originally May 30, 2012, then waited until almost March of this year to elect to remain in baseball.

"For me personally, I knew it was going to take a while to get started," Gonzalez said. "Last month and a half (of 2012) I was starting to throw the ball a lot better and we were playing a lot better as a team."

Though Tagert doesn't subscribe to the idea of a single closer, he gave the job to Zavada at the end of spring training. Gonzalez took the assignment without complaint.

"Because of his mindset, because of his professionalism, when Clay was saving more of the games early, I don't know how Marco felt about it, but he was a professional about it," Tagert said. "From a manager's standpoint, we've got the best possible of both worlds ... I had it great. From their standpoint, they want it in the ninth inning."

"I told skip, I'll pitch the seventh, the eighth, I'll close, whatever you need me to do," Gonzalez added. "We have a lot of guys in the bullpen who can do a lot of jobs."

When Zavada's contract was bought by San Diego on July 2, Gonzalez platooned the role with rookie Ian Durham.

His ERA began to drop, from 2.69 on June 29 to 1.89 by the Aug. 4. He hasn't allowed a run since July 6.

The only reliever older than Gonzalez is Will Krout, who officially started the season as a starter.

"I think around the league the players that don't know our situation well think we're running a boot camp over there, we like a little structure, but when you see a guy like Marco Gonzalez preparing as hard as he does and as well as he does every day, that rubs off," Tagert said. "Those things, more than anything, I've always believed in there's no doubt its nice to have some vocal leadership, but you can not replace the value of leading by example and the way you go about your daily routine and Marco is top of the charts in that situation."

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