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Mariners Notebook: The focus for Chris Flexen; Servais’ response to Bauer

M's manager Scott Servais had a joke to make at Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer's expense. (Getty)

With the Mariners playing the 21st of their 26 games in consecutive days this spring, they send Chris Flexen to the hill Tuesday night against Arizona in what will likely be his final Cactus League start.

Unafraid to speak his mind, Mariners’ Kelenic makes no apologies

It’s been an absolutely brutal spring schedule with the the Mariners’ two off days coming right after the first game and right before the last. Throw in two days off before the start of the season and the Mariners will need to schedule a number of sim games to keep guys sharp.

In Flexen’s case, if the Mariners stay in rotation through the opening series he would be looking at 13 days between starts. The focus in Tuesday’s start is building arm strength and repeating pitches. Seattle manager Scott Servais hopes to see Flexen get through five innings, and coming off a three-inning outing against the Angels where he gave up six runs, he would like to see Flexen do so with less damage.

“The big thing tonight is just (being) consistent and being able to repeat pitches,” said Servais. “Flexen has got good stuff, we’ve seen the quality fastball, good breaking ball, his cutter is a good pitch, his changeup is a good weapon to have. But repeating those pitches, not just throwing a good one here or there but putting some sequences together and get some rhythm going on the mound.”

Although he was a free-agent pickup, Servais and Jerry Dipoto have stressed that experience-wise Flexen is still quite young and will be a work in progress much like their other young pitchers. While his pitches graded out showing much improvement while pitching in Korea last year, he’s got to take those numbers to the field and put them together, as Servais said.

Tom Murphy, who caught Flexen’s last outing, will catch him again against the Diamondbacks and likes what he sees in the potential of the changeup.

“I think it’s a really good pitch,” Murphy said. “His arm slot is really high, it might be the highest on the team. That coupled with a changeup that doesn’t have much pronation that is just straight out of his hand with a lot of intent is really hard to pick up as a hitter.”

Flexen struggled to get that pitch going in his last outing and Murphy will encourage him to throw it more Tuesday night.

“In my opinion you have to throw that a lot in spring training games here to give you the confidence to throw it in season,” he said.

Lineup!

Mitch Haniger, DH
Ty France, 2B
Kyle Seager, 3B
José Marmolejos, LF
Dylan Moore, SS
Evan White, 1B
Jake Fraley, RF
Tom Murphy, C
Sam Haggerty, CF

Chris Flexen, SP

This was actually the second lineup posted for the game against the Diamondbacks with Kyle Lewis and Taylor Trammell in the original starting nine. Lewis was scratched to give him an extra day after crashing into a wall in Monday night’s game, while no reason for Trammell no longer being in the lineup had been given at the time of this posting.

Both Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez are on the travel squad.

Servais has fun with Bauer comments

It appears Servais was not too pleased with the comments of Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer, who gave up three home runs to the Mariners in the fifth inning Monday night.

Bauer told reporters afterwards that he was really good the first few innings and executed pitches the way he wanted to. After that?

“So I got what I wanted out of it. The fifth inning, there really wasn’t any thought of sequencing or whatever,” Bauer said. “I was just throwing pitches. That’s not a really good mind frame to be in when you are trying to get guys out but I was just finishing off the night, trying to get my pitch count up.”

In Servais’ pregame meeting with the media, Servais had this to say after answering a question about Lewis:

“Our entire team, I think we have done a nice job making some adjustments over the last seven or eight games and it is showing. Certainly Bauer was on top of his game early and I just want everybody to know our guys weren’t trying in the first four innings. We decided to try in the fifth inning last night and it worked out. Our guys started trying. I know he said maybe he wasn’t (trying) in the fifth, but our guys were trying in the fifth, we just didn’t take it seriously in the first three to four innings.”

As Bauer has made a show of pitching with one eye closed as a training method, a method he used when he hit Ty France with a pitch in his first outing against the Mariners this spring, of course the follow up question had to be if the Mariners’ hitters were hitting with both eyes open.

“No,” Servais answered. “Our guys were hitting with one eye shut the first four innings and trying to breathe through our eyelids as we focused on things that will help us through the year.”

Mariners notes

• Quick, who leads the Mariners in RBIs? If you answered Ty France, who among qualified players leads all of baseball in spring average and OPS, you would be wrong. Evan White currently leads the Mariners in RBIs with 14.

Quick, now who leads all of baseball in RBI? If you answered anyone but White, you would be wrong. White is hitting .162, so what gives?

“I think Evan has been swinging the bat well the last three to four days,” Servais said. “Evan’s had a good spring. He’s made some adjustments, 37 at-bats to seven strikeouts, that’s a good rate. It’s not showing up in the batting average but there is so much more to being an offensive player than batting average. It’s getting on base, driving in runs, it’s having quality at-bats when you need to have them. I like where he’s at and how he is swinging the bat right now.”

• It’s not just the Mariners who believe Yusei Kikuchi could have a breakout season this year. MLB.com reporters and researchers put out a list of their top 10 dark horse candidates to win the Cy Young Awards in 2021 (five each from the American League and National League), and Kikuchi made the list.

In the write up, Andrew Simon had this to say about the improvements Kikuchi has made in the last year:

“In short, Kikuchi looked like a completely different pitcher – one with four effective offerings who was able to both limit the quantity and quality of contact (71st percentile in whiff rate, 86th percentile barrel rate allowed). As MLB.com’s Mike Petriello pointed out, he was part of an impressive group of eight pitchers (minimum 40 innings) to post at least a 50% ground-ball rate and 24% K-rate. Both Kikuchi’s FIP (3.30) and xERA suggest a pitcher who deserved a much better ERA, and if his command can take a step forward, there’s a chance he emerges this year as a front-line starter.”

• The Mariners made another round of cuts Tuesday afternoon. Re-assigned to minor league camp are right-handed pitchers Robert Dugger and Matt Magill, infielder Sam Travis, outfielders Luis Liberato and Dillon Thomas, and utility player Jack Reinheimer. Following the moves, there are now 42 players remaining in Seattle’s big league camp.

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