Left-hander Marco Gonzales has some big shoes to fill when he takes the mound Sunday afternoon as the Seattle Mariners try for a series victory against the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.

The Mariners have received excellent starts in each of their first two games of the four-game series.

Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray was dominant in Friday’s 2-1 victory on Opening Day, allowing just three hits, including a solo homer by Gio Urshela, and one run over seven innings.

Logan Gilbert followed that up in Saturday’s 4-3 win by allowing one run, a solo homer by Luis Arraez, on three hits and a walk while striking out seven over five innings.

Gonzales is 0-2 with a 9.42 ERA in three career starts against Minnesota and was drilled last year in his only start at Target Field. He allowed seven runs on nine hits, including homers to Buxton and Mitch Garver, in a 10-2 loss on April 8, 2021.

Gonzales finished with a 10-6 record and 3.96 ERA last season. He spent his final spring training start fine-tuning his changeup and curveball. More than half of his 85 pitches in a 6-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Peoria, Ariz., were off-speed pitches. He allowed two runs on four hits over six innings while striking out five.

“Marco obviously wanted to work on his changeup and curveball today,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told the Seattle Times. “He threw like 23 changeups and 21 were strikes so he got something out of it. That was the plan going in, and he really wanted to focus on it.”

The Mariners scored two runs in the ninth inning to pull out Saturday’s win with star rookie Julio Rodriguez starting the comeback with his first major league hit, a double into the gap in left-center. Rodriguez scored on a two-out double by Adam Frazier.

Ty France, who finished with three hits, singled in Frazier for the game-winning RBI.

“Off to a good start,” Servais said. “When our backs were against the wall we got some big hits.”

Minnesota has managed just four hits in each of the first two games of the series, which concludes Monday.

But thanks to some solid pitching the Twins had a chance to win both contests.

Gary Sanchez appeared to hit what was going to be a dramatic walk-off homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Friday, only to have his towering drive into the teeth of the wind caught against the left field fence by Jesse Winker to end the game.

The Twins took a 3-2 lead in Saturday’s loss on a 436-foot two-run blast by Byron Buxton into the third deck, only for the Mariners to rally for two runs in the ninth off Tyler Duffey.

“An enormous moment,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Buxton’s go-ahead homer which came off a 100.5 mph fastball thrown by Andres Munoz. “The kind of moments were going to see a lot from him. Just a big swing at a time that we needed it. He hit that ball a long way. We’re going to see Buck do that a lot.”

“When it left the bat, I don’t know what direction the stadium is in, I thought it was going to land in Wisconsin,” Servais said. “That was a bomb.”

The Twins will turn to 6-foot-9 right-hander Bailey Ober to start on Sunday. Ober went 3-3 with a 4.19 ERA last season and was impressive in his only start against the Mariners, allowing one hit over four scoreless innings while striking out six in a 7-2 victory in Seattle.

–Field Level Media