Mariners Takeaways: Logan Gilbert’s key struggle, the options at C and 1B
The Mariners have Thursday off, and it appears to be coming at a very good time.
After taking three of four from Cleveland, the Mariners’ bats went cold against the Detroit Tigers, who swept Seattle in three games. Now, Seattle will have the day off before starting a three-game set in San Diego against the Padres, who are one of the hottest teams in baseball.
With the day off, let’s look at some key takeaways from recent Mariners action.
Logan Gilbert searching for the breaking ball
In his MLB debut last week against Cleveland, Mariners rookie right-hander Logan Gilbert threw four innings of four-run ball while recording five strikeouts.
In that game, he relied primarily on his fastball, but he used his curveball and slider as well. Of his 71 pitches that day, 28 were breaking balls, according to Statcast.
Gilbert didn’t have a ton of success with those pitches, but he was close enough to the zone to get some swings with them. Of his 28 breaking balls, he got 18 swings and six whiffs. He felt that the curveball was better than the slider that day.
“I was kind of feeling (the slider) out as I went, and I feel like I probably could have done a better job of expanding the zone when I was ahead with two strikes, and when I needed a strike I might throw the one out of the zone that I need to be in the zone,” he said after his debut. “Some of (the breaking balls) felt great but some of them felt a little off.”
The hope was that Gilbert would have more success with the curve and slider in his second start Wednesday against the Tigers, but that wasn’t the case.
“I think that was the biggest takeaway,” Gilbert said after the game. “Curve and slider, I just didn’t have great control. I think that was the biggest problem tonight.”
Despite recording a 1-2-3 first inning on just nine pitches, Gilbert made it just 2 2/3 innings while allowing three runs. He walked two and had two strikeouts.
Of his 74 pitches Wednesday, 31 were sliders or curveballs, per Statcast. Despite upping the usage of the breaking balls, Gilbert had even less success with them in his second outing. Tigers hitters swung only eight times against those pitches and whiffed just three times.
Gilbert clearly didn’t have a feel for the slider or curve and regularly spiked the pitches in the dirt. But he wasn’t going to shy away from those pitches, either.
“I felt like I was going to go back to them and try to find it because eventually you have to,” he said. “You have to prove (you have secondary pitches) at some point in the outing and I wasn’t able to do that tonight, but I wasn’t going to just lay fastballs in there the whole time because that’s not the answer, either. I was just trying to find it along the way and I just never could.”
Gilbert will look to improve those breaking balls in his next probable start next week against the Oakland Athletics.
Something else to note with Gilbert is that he hasn’t thrown a single changeup yet in an MLB game. He used that pitch in college and in the minors, and it’s gotten good reviews from prospect ranking lists. MLB Pipeline ranks it as a 55 (above average) on the 20-80 scale while Baseball America gave it a 60 grade. Both publications rate Gilbert’s changeup better than his curveball.
New role for Rafael Montero
There’s something that may have been lost in the shuffle in the Mariners’ two most recent series, and that’s how reliever Rafael Montero was used.
This likely flew under the radar because in the series against Cleveland, the Mariners won three of four games and we saw the debuts of Gilbert and fellow top prospect Jarred Kelenic. In the Tigers series, the Mariners struggled mightily, hence how the bullpen was used wasn’t at the center of attention.
Montero’s role has been a point of criticism for Mariners fans this year who don’t agree with him being used in key high-leverage situations. Well, in his last two outings, it seems his role may have changed.
Prior to Sunday’s win over Cleveland, Montero had only pitched before the seventh inning one time in his first 17 appearances, and that came in the sixth inning of a seven-inning game against Baltimore during a doubleheader.
In Montero’s last two appearances, he pitched in the sixth and fifth innings. Both were relatively low-leverage spots, especially compared to where he has been pitching most of the year.
On Sunday, he was the third pitcher used in a bullpen start, and he allowed two runs (one earned) while recording two outs. He entered the sixth inning with the Mariners up 3-0.
On Wednesday, Montero was again the third pitcher used, and he entered that contest in the fifth inning with the Mariners down 5-1. He pitched two perfect innings.
Perhaps this is signaling that Montero will be more of a middle reliever than someone used in key late spots.
The Mariners have arguably the best reliever in baseball in 2021 in Kendall Graveman, and Erik Swanson and Drew Steckenrider have both pitched very well of late. Casey Sadler also was off to a good start before landing on the 10-day injured list, and while Anthony Misiewicz has had his ups and downs, he figures to remain a regular late-inning option for Servais since he’s the bullpen’s lone lefty.
And just for fun, here’s a random stat: In the 19 games that Montero has pitched this year, the Mariners are 15-4.
Two positions yet to get it rolling
The Mariners’ offensive struggles as a whole are well known at this point, but it’s especially been an issue at two positions: first base and catcher.
Looking just at regular first basemen Evan White and José Marmolejos, the numbers are … not great.
That duo has combined for -1.1 wins above replacement (WAR), with Marmolejos ranking last on the team in WAR among position players at -0.7.
White and Marmolejos are hitting a combined .131 with five home runs, 18 RBIs, 63 strikeouts (35.8% of plate appearances) and 20 walks, with Marmolejos recording 14 of them.
The catcher spot hasn’t been much better, with Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens each checking in with -0.2 WAR. That duo is hitting .156 with six home runs, 12 RBIs, 53 strikeouts and nine walks.
There have also been some defensive issues behind the plate, namely with Torrens. Mariners pitchers have 20 wild pitches so far, with Torrens behind the plate on 14 of them and likely at fault for at least a few. He’s also had some defensive miscues like when he didn’t tag a runner out at home plate against the Rangers because he thought the play was a force out.
Opposing teams have also had plenty of success stealing against the Mariners this year.
So far, the Mariners have allowed 28 stolen bases and thrown out only four runners, or 12.5 % (the MLB average is 22%). Both Torrens and Murphy have caught two runners stealing each. Torrens has been behind the plate for 19 of the 28 steals.
It is important to note, though, that so much of controlling opposing running games is dependent on pitchers. Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield have been on the mound for 13 of those 28 steals. Runners are perfect when stealing with Dunn on the mound and are 5 for 6 with Sheffield pitching.
So for those two positions, are there any alternatives?
For catcher, the answer that many fans are likely clamoring for is calling up Cal Raleigh, the team’s eight-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline.
In 10 games for Triple-A Tacoma entering Thursday, Raleigh is slashing .286/.367/.548 with one home run, seven RBIs, eight extra-base hits, eight strikeouts and five walks. Heck, he’s even stolen two bases.
As for first base, it’s harder right now to find an alternative with White on the 10-day injured list and Marmolejos holding that position down for the time being.
Additionally, France, who has played five games at first base this year, is also on the IL with a wrist injury. If France returns soon, one option would be for him to play more first base while White recovers and then possibly spends time in Tacoma, which could be considered a rehab assignment.
Demotions aren’t always the best thing for a young player, but the Mariners are seeing it work well for outfielder Taylor Trammell. In six Triple-A games since he was sent down, Trammell is hitting an absurd .577 with four home runs after hitting .157 with a very high strikeout rate in 27 MLB games.