COLUMBIA, S.C. - Right-handed pitcher Merandy Gonzalez , a 2017 South Atlantic League All-Star, became the first former Firefly to appear in a Major League Baseball game. The 22-year-old Marlins pitcher struck out All-Star Lorenzo Cain and tossed two scoreless innings against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on Thursday night. Gonzalez, a New York Met farmhand from 2013-2017 was traded along with Ricardo Cespedes to Miami in exchange for All-Star reliever A.J. Ramos on July 28, 2017.
"When I got the call, it was one of the more emotional moments of my career," Gonzalez told MLB.com Marlins reporter, Joe Frisaro. "It's been five years since I've wanted to get the call and be up here. It was a great moment."
The 14th-rated Marlins prospect was added to Miami's roster on Thursday when reliever Chris O'Grady was placed on the disabled list. Gonzalez was called up from double-A Jacksonville after starting a pair of games for the Jumbo Shrimp.
"One of the biggest things I was working on was controlling the inside part of the zone," Gonzalez explained to Frisaro in Milwaukee postgame. "If you can control that area, you really aren't giving the hitters much chance to have success. That as well as working on my breaking pitches."
Gonzalez started for the Southern Division in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game last June after overwhelming the league in 11 starts. The Dominican Republic native posted an 8-1 record and 1.55 ERA while punching out 65 hitters (compared to just 13 walks) in 69.2 innings for Columbia. Gonzalez hurled a one-two-three top of the first inning of the All-Star Game at Spirit Communications Park on June 20, 2017.
"It's amazing to see our first former player reach the Major Leagues," said Fireflies team President John Katz. "Merandy was baffling opposing hitters less than a year ago at Spirit Communications Park. It's a great day for Merandy and the Fireflies, and we're anxiously anticipating our next player to make his MLB debut."
Perhaps the most dominant stretch of his minor league career took place during his time as a Firefly from April 9-May 3, 2017. The righty chased a SAL record over his first five outings of the season: Gonzalez heaved 28.2 consecutive scoreless innings, which ended up falling just 11 shut-out innings shy of the league mark (39.2 IP). This stretch earned Gonzalez the South Atlantic League Player of the Month award for April.
"I am extremely proud of Merandy and enjoyed working with him," Columbia pitching coach Jonathan Hurst said. "He was so focused on getting better each and every start with us [in 2017]. A very coachable guy that earned this opportunity. I see him as a starting pitcher, but if you were to talk to him now, he wouldn't care what his role was. He's made it to the big leagues and that's the most important thing."
Gonzalez was promoted to the advanced-A Mets affiliate for the second half of the 2017 season before being traded a month later. Overall, the 22-year-old finished 2017 with a remarkable 13-3 record and 1.66 ERA in 22 games - 20 of which were starts - pitching for Columbia and the advanced-A St. Lucie Mets and Jupiter Hammerheads (Miami).
The Mets originally signed the 6-foot right-hander in 2013 as a non-drafted free agent. Baseball America labeled Gonzalez as New York's "breakout prospect" for 2017 and he's currently ranked as one of the top right-handed pitchers in the Marlins organization.
FROM COLUMBIA TO THE SHOW:
RHP Merandy Gonzalez (Miami) - April 19, 2018 - 2 scoreless innings vs. Milwaukee
WHO'S NEXT? FORMER FIREFLIES WITH METS TRIPLE-A AFFILIATE IN LAS VEGAS:
LHP P.J. Conlon
INF David Thompson
About the Columbia Fireflies
The Columbia Fireflies are the South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets. Winners of Ballpark Digest's Best New Branding and Logo Award in 2016, the Fireflies play games across the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions, including against in-state rivals in Charleston and Greenville. The team partnered with the city of Columbia and Hughes Development to construct Spirit Communications Park, a multi-use outdoor sports and entertainment venue at the center of the BullStreet District. The Columbia Fireflies are owned by Hardball Capital, owners of the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Midwest League and the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League. For more information, visit www.ColumbiaFireflies.com, or follow the Fireflies on Twitter (@ColaFireflies), Facebook (facebook.com/columbiafireflies) and all popular social media platforms.
About Spirit Communications Park
Spirit Communications Park, the 2016 Ballpark Digest Ballpark of the Year, is a 365-day per year multi-use sports and entertainment venue located in the heart of downtown Columbia, South Carolina. Spirit Communications Park is the home ballpark for the Columbia Fireflies, the South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets. Designed for baseball, concerts, football, soccer and a host of other activities, the venue seats approximately 9,000 for sporting events and up to 15,000 for major outdoor concerts. With 16 luxury suites and a 7,000 square-foot Club Level Lounge, Spirit Communications Park also hosts everything from business meetings to wedding receptions, and everything in between. The venue is open 365 days a year and serves as a public park, with a wrap-around concourse representing 1/3 of a mile for walkers and joggers. For more information, visit www.SpiritCommunicationsPark.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.