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Mariners Takeaways: What stands out from Seattle’s series win over Giants

Mariners LHP Yusei Kikuchi struck out 10 batters in his first start of 2021. (Getty)

The Mariners’ first series of the 2021 season is now in the books, and Seattle is 2-1 and a series winner after a 4-0 shutout win over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night.

Flexen, France and Haniger lead Mariners past Giants for series win

After a walkoff win on opening day, the Mariners fell to San Francisco 6-3 on Friday before shutting down the Giants on Saturday to win the series.

The Mariners have Sunday off before resuming play on Monday against the Chicago White Sox, so now is a good opportunity to look back at the opening series.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Seattle’s opening series win over San Francisco.

Controlling the zone

If you’ve been following the Mariners for the last few seasons, you know that a key focus is dominating the strike zone both on the mound and at the plate. Consider the first series of the season a success in that regard.

Mariners hitters drew 16 walks and struck out 29 times. Mariners pitchers, meanwhile, walked only 10 batters while recording 32 strikeouts.

After Saturday, the 16 walks drawn were the second-most in MLB while the 32 strikeouts thrown was the third-best mark in the league.

Controlling the strike zone was far and away manager Scott Servais’ biggest takeaway from the three-game series win. He was especially pleased with what he saw from his lineup.

“Our hitters for the most part throughout this series did not chase a ton,” he said. “There’s an at-bat here and there where a guy gets away from their plan, but I talk about it often … if we continue to (dominate the zone) and grow it with our young players, we are going to have a good season, we really will. It doesn’t matter how many homers we hit, controlling the strike zone is what it’s all about and that’s what sticks out for me in this series. That’s been the battle cry with this group for a few years and it’s paying dividends. It’s paying off right now.”

That approach was especially key on opening day.

The Mariners won that game 8-7 in extra innings, but despite scoring eight runs, Seattle tallied only five hits. Mariners hitters did, however, draw nine walks that game, including Jake Fraley’s bases-loaded walkoff walk in the 10th inning.

Speaking of Fraley, perhaps no Mariner is controlling the zone better.

Through three games and 13 plate appearances, Fraley has walked six times and been hit by a pitch. He has just one hit in six at-bats for a .167 average, but his on-base percentage is a cool .615.

Gonzales struggles, but other starters shine

No. 1 pitcher Marco Gonzales was uncharacteristically off on Thursday, allowing five runs in six innings, including three home runs. More surprising, though, was that after walking only seven batters in 11 starts last season, Gonzales walked three on opening day, including the first batter of the season.

While Gonzales struggled, Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Flexen were outstanding in their respective starts.

Kikuchi, who had a 5.17 ERA in 2020 and went 2-4, was on his game.

Aside from allowing three runs and two home runs, Kikuchi dominated. He struck out 10 batters and walked only one, and of his 89 pitches, 67 were strikes. The 10 strikeouts tied his career-high.

Kikuchi’s aggression in the strike zone paired with his plus offerings really impressed his manager.

“That’s the type of stuff and the focus and just the attack mentality that we’ve been talking about (him showcasing),” Servais said after Friday’s 6-3 loss. “… That’s as dominant an outing we’ve seen him have … Really happy and looking forward to seeing many more outings like that this year.”

Kikuchi echoed his manager’s comments through an interpreter after the game, as well.

β€œAll spring I was told from everyone … to be aggressive in the zone and attack the zone, and I think that was something I was able to do,” he said.

Following Kikuchi in the rotation was the right-handed Flexen, who was making his first MLB appearance since 2019. He pitched in Korea in 2020 before signing with the Mariners this offseason.

The signing of Flexen instead of a more known commodity may have thrown some fans for a loop, but his showing on Saturday showed why the Mariners targeted him.

Flexen didn’t give up a run and allowed just four hits In five innings while striking out six and walking two. His fastball sat between 92 and 93 mph and touched 94 and 95 at times. He also utilized a cutter that Servais described as his “go-to pitch” while mixing in a curveball and changeup.

“He needs to get them all working,” Servais said. “That’s when he’s at his best and that’s what we saw tonight.”

Flexen earned the win, his first in the MLB since his rookie season in 2017 when he was with the New York Mets.

Bullpen plays big part in all three games

On opening day, the Mariners’ bullpen allowed two runs (only one earned) in four innings of work in the team’s win.

During the second game, however, Drew Steckenrider allowed three runs while recording only two outs to earn the loss.

Finally on Saturday, Kendall Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz and Rafael Montero combined for four scoreless innings while striking out six to preserve the shutout and the 4-0 win.

Graveman especially shined, throwing two innings and striking out five while allowing only one baserunner.

“I thought Gravey tonight was just unbelievable,” Servais said. “The stuff was awesome.”

Graveman was in the upper 90s with his fastball/sinker, but his slider was on the money. All five of his strikeouts came on the slider.

After Graveman came Misiewicz, who recorded two outs before two weak hits knocked him out of the game. In came Montero, who had allowed a home run in a save situation on opening day, and he bounced back to get a four-out save.

“I love handing him the ball,” Servais said of Montero. “… He’s got real weapons. He’s got starting pitcher-type weapons. Coming out of the bullpen in short stints like that, (he has) the good (velocity), the good changeup and really good slider, and he stays out of the middle of the plate for the most part.”

The bullpen was a major weakness for the Mariners the last two seasons, and while the lineup and starting rotation have a lot of promise with a good blend of veterans and talented young players, the bullpen is a big question mark heading forward and could play a big part in whether or not Seattle can contend for a playoff spot.

Graveman told reporters that the members of the Mariners’ bullpen understands how vital they are to this team.

“This year for us in the bullpen, I’ve communicated it with every one of our guys in the bullpen (that) ‘our team is going to go as we go,'” he said. “If we can come in and shut the door… we’re going to win a lot of baseball games.”

Up and down series for Taylor Trammell

The Mariners broke camp with a top outfield prospect set to play every day in 2021. The surprise is that it was Taylor Trammell, though, and not Jarred Kelenic.

Trammell started all three games in center field and hit fifth in the lineup, and while he had some great moments, he also had some rookie moments at the plate.

On opening day, Trammell worked two walks, including a key eight-pitch free pass in the team’s six-run eighth inning. He also walked in extra innings and recorded an outfield assist that ultimately saved a run.

On Friday, Trammell recorded another walk and made a nice sliding play in center field.

And on Saturday, Trammell finally recorded his first MLB hit, an RBI double into right-center field on a changeup on the outer half of the plate.

Trammell struck out six times in 13 plate appearances during the series, however, including three in the 6-3 loss on Friday.

Servais hopes that Trammell getting his first hit on Saturday can pave the way for more success going forward.

“It was nice to see him get that first hit out of the way,” Servais said. “Hopefully he can relax and get into his game a little bit more.”

Trammell and the Mariners will look to keep the momentum going starting Monday against the up-and-coming Chicago White Sox, a contender this season for the American League pennant and maybe even the World Series. Left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield will get the start for the Mariners in the opener, which is set for a 7:10 p.m. start on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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