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Mariners Table Setter: Justus serves, the impact of speed and White’s glove

Evan White's defense has been as advertised so far in his time with the Mariners. (Getty)

The Mariners enter the week having got off the schneid with a 5-3 Sunday win over the Rockies, which snapped a three-game skid and was just their second victory in their last nine games.

Drayer: Observations on Mariners’ youth movement, pitching and plan

For a team that had scuffled in various ways in the previous week – bullpen issues here, a few rough starts there, a one-hit performance on Saturday – that win over Colorado to avoid a sweep was about as close to a complete game as the 6-11 squad has had this season.

Seattle jumped out to a 2-0 lead two batters in when J.P. Crawford reached to lead off the first and Dylan Moore drove him in on his third home run of the season. Justus Sheffield had his best outing as a big leaguer, holding a formidable Rockies batting order (albeit without Nolan Arenado or Daniel Murphy in the starting lineup) scoreless over six innings. The offense seized on a mistake in the seventh inning to add three runs to the Mariners’ total. And a pair of strong relief outings book-ended one that was not so much to deliver the victory.

The M’s are now on their second trip of the season to Texas, where they have three-game sets with both the Rangers and Astros this week. Let’s look at a few things to keep in mind about the team.

Mariners making strides on the mound.

We know the score with this Mariners season, and it’s always going to be a case of highlighting the ups when you can find them rather than dwelling on the downs, which will be abundant. The pitching staff has certainly had its share of the latter, especially but not limited to the bullpen. As long as there are positives to highlight, though, that’s a good sign, and Seattle is delivering in that department.

Every starting pitcher in the current six-man rotation has had at least one outing hinting at their promise, with Sheffield’s gem Sunday the most fresh in mind. Not only did he go six scoreless innings with no walks and seven strikeouts, but it was both his first career win in the big leagues and hands down his best performance in 14 MLB appearances. The best part about it was how effective he was with his slider, which he turned to time and time again to retire the Rockies’ hitters.

“It’s a wipeout pitch,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said about Sheffield’s slider after the game.

Colorado has no choice but to agree.

It has been a struggle to find consistency for Seattle’s rotation, but they’ve all had moments to build off of. Taijuan Walker had a seven-inning, one-hit showing July 31 against Oakland that was one his best starts ever in a Mariners uniform, and Yusei Kikuchi did something similar when he went six shutout innings with nine strikeouts the next night. They each will need to shake off poor outings that came in their following starts, however.

Justin Dunn battled back from a very poor first inning against the Angels to get through four innings on Aug. 4, and he gets the ball again Monday night to hopefully build off of it. Nick Magevicius kept Colorado off the scoreboard for 3 1/3 innings Saturday in his first start moving from the bullpen to take over for the injured Kendall Graveman, and Servais had positive things to say about the 24-year-old lefty after that one.

Finally, the man at the top of the rotation, Marco Gonzales, is already in midseason shape, having thrown back to back quality starts.

A few members of the ‘pen are showing they’re worth paying attention to, as well. Erik Swanson threw an eye-popping seven-pitch seventh inning on Sunday, throwing nothing but strikes and racking up a pair of three-pitch punchouts. Local product Taylor Williams also notched his third save, this one of the four-out variety after limiting the damage of a jam Dan Altavilla got into in the eighth inning to keep a two-run lead intact for Seattle. Finally, rookie Joey Gerber and his off-kilter motion made it through two outings and 2 1/3 innings before he even allowed a baserunner, though the Rockies did touch him up a bit Saturday.

Mariners learning speed equals pressure.

When you’re young, you’re more athletic. When you’re more athletic, you can do things on the basepaths not all teams can. The 2020 Mariners are finding out how fun that can be.

Something else that popped out Sunday was the aforementioned seventh inning where the Mariners tacked on three runs to their 2-0 lead. Those three runs had a lot to do with speed and the pressure it puts on opponents.

Colorado third baseman Chris Owings nearly pulled off a spectacular barehand grab and throw, but Kyle Lewis beat it out. Then when Kyle Seager hit it to Owings again on the next play, he both lost the handle and made an errant throw, giving Seattle runners on second and third with no outs. And though Daniel Vogelbach was retired on the following at-bat, the Mariners did what you’re supposed to do when another team makes a mistake – capitalize on it.

Evan White hit a sac fly to deep center to score one run, but with two outs, the M’s weren’t done. Tim Lopes singled Seager home, then wasted little time and provided Seattle’s American League-leading 17th stolen base of the season. That’s the important part here, as it came in handy when Dee Gordon singled, because it allowed Lopes beat the throw home and make it 5-0 M’s.

That inning as a whole was just another example of the Mariners being “uncomfortable” to play against, and the plan is certainly for that to become more and more of a regularity as the Mariners gain experience and put together more and more wins in the coming years.

Let’s talk about Evan White’s glove.

White is a rookie, and it’s fair to say he’s looked like it at the plate, hitting just .105 with 27 strikeouts, which is tops in the majors. It’s clear it’s going to take some time to get acclimated as a hitter with the Mariners, though he is putting together some good plate appearances and is dealing with an unconscionably low .179 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which suggests he’s been unlucky when making contact thus far.

So the hitting is one thing. But the defense? Oh, the defense. It’s been something on a nightly basis, whether it’s a diving stop, an impressive pick on a throw in the dirt, or some show of his flexibility or footwork around the bag.

Or this play.

First basemen don’t make this play, but Evan White does.

Eventually the bat will come around, but when White’s making plays like this, it sure makes it a lot easier for the M’s to take his rookie-year struggles at the dish.

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