ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps more than at any point in the season, the Cardinals needed a win when they took the field for the second game of a doubleheader against the Cubs on Aug. 30, given that they lost four straight and had fallen further back of the Brewers. They entrusted that start to Marco Gonzales, freshly summoned from Triple-A to fill in.
Gonzales pitched the Cardinals to a win that day and solidified a place in the Cardinals' bullpen with it. He worked behind Michael Wacha a few times, made another spot start and was then thrust into pitching the ninth inning of a key game in Arizona on the final weekend of the regular season. It was all part of a five-week move to where he is now -- considered the team's left-handed setup man.
"As we watch him in a [late-inning] situation down the stretch knowing those games were pretty high leverage, he pitched well for us," manager Mike Matheny said. "They can do whatever they want with their lineup and bring in a righty and I feel just as good. He kind of answered some questions that we weren't able to see [earlier in the season when] we had [Sam] Freeman, [Kevin] Siegrist. Marco was kind of in the balance the whole time. But he stepped up -- and we need him, so we're going to use him."
Gonzales, the No. 19 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, has leapfrogged Freeman and replaced Siegrist (arm soreness) on the late-inning depth chart. Beginning in Arizona, where he pitched a clean ninth to set up an extra-inning win and then, two days later, tossed three scoreless innings, Gonzales has pitched himself into prominence in the 'pen.
He threw a scoreless frame in Game 1 of the National League Division Series while the Cardinals were trailing. In Game 2, Matheny brought him in to pitch the seventh with the Dodgers ahead, 2-0. Matheny went to Gonzales over Freeman after watching Freeman walk both batters he faced in Game 1.
"Just like when we make our lineups, it's who is looking good right now," Matheny said. "Who can we go to to jump in right now? We need our best lefty at this point. We know what [Randy] Choate is [as a left-on-left specialist]. We could throw Freeman out there and he comes out sharp. But the last time it wasn't what we were hoping it would be, and Marco was. Right now is not the time to mess around."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.