Mariners’ Justus Sheffield has ‘no doubt’ Seattle should contend this year

Jan 19, 2021, 12:14 PM | Updated: 12:30 pm
Mariners LHP Justus Sheffield...
Mariners LHP Justus Sheffield was strong over his last eight starts in 2020. (Getty)

The Seattle Mariners were one of the youngest teams during the shortened 2020 MLB season, and Seattle’s young core that got its first extended action in the big leagues is prepared to take the next step forward in 2021.

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Center fielder Kyle Lewis is the young player getting the most attention after 2020, and rightfully so after the 2016 first-round pick was the unanimous American League Rookie of the Year, but another 2020 rookie who had a very good season was left-handed starting pitcher Justus Sheffield.

The 24-year-old Sheffield, who the Mariners acquired in the trade that sent James Paxton to the New York Yankees after the 2018 season, finished 2020 with a 4-3 record, 3,58 ERA, 1.301 WHIP, 48 strikeouts and 20 walks. In his first two starts of the season, Sheffield allowed a combined eight runs over 7 2/3 innings and allowed eight runs, but he pitched at least six innings in six of his next eight starts, allowing two or fewer runs in all but one of those games.

Sheffield joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant as part of the two-week-long Mariners Virtual Baseball Bash that began Tuesday to discuss his 2020 season and what he expects from the team in 2021.

Last year in 60 games, the Mariners finished 27-33 and third in the AL West. That equates to a .450 winning percentage. In 2019, the first year of the rebuild, Seattle went 68-94, or a .420 winning percentage. In 2021, Sheffield expects an even bigger jump for a young team that’s looking to end the Mariners’ playoff drought, which started in 2002, especially as more young players from Seattle’s elite farm system are expected to make their MLB debuts.

“I feel that we’re going to be a contending team this year. I mean, we should be, there’s no doubt,” Sheffield said. “With the talent we have and the talent coming, like I said, everybody’s on the same page and the last couple years I’ve been with the Mariners there’s never been a problem with that.”

Seattle went 12-11 to end the season last September, and due to an expanded playoff field the Mariners were in contention for a playoff spot late into the year. Sheffield thinks they have a lot of momentum to carry over given how the team finished the season, especially as younger players grew more comfortable at the MLB level.

“At the beginning, we had a lot of guys playing really their first big league games and guys (were regularly) coming up from the alternate site, so there were a lot of young players running through there,” Sheffield said. “But if you look at our team at the end of the year, we looked like a complete big league team and we were competing with other teams, so I feel like that’s only the beginning with what we have to come and guys coming up from Triple-A and Double-A and whatnot. So I’m excited, I know our team’s excited. We’re ready to show everybody what we can do.”

Part of that growth on the field was due to the team growing closer over the course of the shortened season. A lot of Seattle’s young players had played together in the minors, but Sheffield says that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and MLB restrictions, the team spent a lot of time together off the field due to players being stuck at the hotel on road trips when not at the park.

“I feel like as a team we grew from it, being in a bubble-type situation, being in hotels … and spent a lot more time (together) than we normally would in a normal season,” he said. “It had its benefits, but hopefully we can start getting some fans in there. It’d be nice to start playing in front of some people.”

Last year was Sheffield’s first full season as a big leaguer, but he got his feet wet with three games in 2018 with the Yankees and then made eight appearances in 2019 with the Mariners. Even though a full season in 2020 was just 10 starts, Sheffield said he learned something valuable about himself during that time.

“I think the one thing I’ve learned about myself is just knowing I can go out there and compete against anybody in the world,” he said. “The first couple of trips up to the big leagues, it can be kind of tough trying to (get acclimated) and trying to find yourself, but after those few times getting those repetitions and getting back out there, you get a little more comfortable and start feeling it. And honestly, man, the main thing is just going out there and competing.”

You can listen to Sheffield’s interview with Danny and Gallant at this link or in the player below.

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