It’s time for the St. Louis Cardinals to call up Marco Gonzales

Oct 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Marco Gonzales throws a pitch against the San Francisco Giants in the fifth inning in game one of the 2014 NLCS playoff baseball game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Marco Gonzales throws a pitch against the San Francisco Giants in the fifth inning in game one of the 2014 NLCS playoff baseball game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

Marco Gonzales is capable of giving the Cardinals a jolt right now, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking.

Since returning from an elbow injury that effectively wiped out his past two seasons–he tried to pitch through it without success in 2015, then missed the entire season after having Tommy John surgery in 2016–lefthanded starting pitcher Marco Gonzales has arguably been the most electric pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor-league system.

After allowing one run on two hits and no walks over six innings in a tune-up start at High-A Palm Beach, the 2013 first-round pick has made two starts at Triple-A Memphis, allowing one run on three hits and a walk over seven innings in the first, then throwing 6 1/3 shutout frames while allowing four hits and a walk in the second. While that success would seem to indicate that Gonzales is back on track to accomplish his goal of earning a big-league rotation spot at some point (isn’t it crazy to think that Gonzales was once considered a favorite to beat out Carlos Martínez for a starting spot back in 2015?), there’s a better way the Cardinals can utilize his talents this season.

While former closer Trevor Rosenthal has been lights-out to start the season and current closer Seung-Hwan Oh and ground ball specialist Matt Bowman have generally been good, the rest of the Cardinals’ bullpen has kind of been a mess to start the season.

More from Arch Authority

After being lights-out in spot duty for the past two years, 30-year-old Miguel Socolovich has had a brutal start to 2017 after making his first Opening Day roster. In 13 appearances, Socolovich has a 6.75 ERA and has allowed four homers while averaging 10.4 hits allowed per nine innings. Fellow righty Jonathan Broxton has been equally bad, posting a 6.39 ERA and 2.13 WHIP over his first 16 appearances of 2017. While 24-year-old Sam Tuivailala has looked more consistent than he ever has before this season and might slowly be growing into a dependable big-league reliever, he has a pedestrian 3.27 ERA and is averaging a career-low 6.5 strikeouts and a still-concerning 4.1 walks per nine innings.

While it’s impossible to know for sure if Gonzales would be an upgrade over any of those relievers, he at least represents hope in the same way that Tuivailala does. As the Cardinals look to carefully monitor his recovery from Tommy John–and at the same time, seek upgrades in the bullpen–promoting Gonzales and putting him in the bullpen just makes too much sense right now.

More from St. Louis Cardinals

It’s difficult to know whether any trends are valid with the 25-year-old Gonzales, who has thrown just 282 2/3 regular-season innings across six different levels as a pro. What we do know, however, is that he was lights out against lefties when pressed into duty as a big-leaguer back in 2014. While facing 32 lefthanded batters, Gonzales held those hitters to a .143/.219/.179 slash line. He was the Cardinals’ primary seventh-inning guy that postseason and found ways to get tough lefties like Dee Gordon, Adrián González, and Brandon Crawford out.

Especially since Cardinals lefthanders have failed to get lefty hitters out–which has become such a concern for Mike Matheny that he allowed righty Matt Bowman to face three straight lefty hitters during the seventh inning of Friday’s loss to the San Francisco Giants, a sequence during which the Giants took the lead–it’d make sense for Gonzales to join the bullpen.

St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals /

St. Louis Cardinals

He still has minor-league options, so it’s not as if the Cardinals would be taking any risk by adding him to the major-league roster. In a sense, it’s good for him to stay stretched out and continue to start in the minors. But two more highly-regarded prospects, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty, have been absolutely dominant and might be ahead of him on the rotation depth chart if the Cardinals need to summon a sixth starter.

And while the Cardinals are expected to get lefty Tyler Lyons back from the disabled list soon, Mike Matheny has always insisted on using the 29-year-old as a long reliever for as long as he’s been in the bullpen. While Lyons actually has a stronger record of dominance against big-league lefty hitters than Gonzales does–he’s held them to a .185/.258/.299 slash line in 234 plate appearances–it’s simply unrealistic to think that Matheny will ever commit to using him in a lefty specialist role. It’s at least worth finding out if he’ll treat Gonzales any differently.

At face value, it’d be fair to question whether it makes any sense at all for the Cardinals to have four lefties in their bullpen, since Gonzales and Lyons hypothetically would be joining mainstay Kevin Siegrist and high-priced offseason acquisition Brett Cecil. However, Gonzales and Lyons provide vastly different skill sets than Siegrist and Cecil.

As far as platoon advantages go, Siegrist might as well be a righthander.  He’s held righty hitters to a .185/.267/.337 slash line in 589 plate appearances, compared to a slightly inferior .231/.348/.349 career slash line in 342 plate appearances against lefties. And while Cecil has been  slightly more effective against lefties during the course of his career, he’s faced more many more righty hitters (1,743) than he has lefties (922). In addition, though it’s a small sample size, he’s been way better against righthanded hitters this season (.226/.286/.226 in 35 plate appearances) than he has against lefties (.419/.487/.839 in 39 plate appearances).

Next: Oscar Mercado shouldn't be overlooked

Even if Cecil’s splits regress (or in this case, progress) to the norm, it’s difficult to get inside Mike Matheny’s head and understand why he would be more confident in Jonathan Broxton against a tough righthanded hitter than he would be in Siegrist or Cecil. That’s why it makes sense to jettison two among Broxton, Socolovich, and Tuivailala and let Gonzales and Lyons–and if his rehab from Tommy John surgery goes as quickly as he’s hoping it will, perhaps eventually Zach Duke–join the bullpen to handle tough lefties.