MIKE SALK

Jerry Dipoto Show: Chris Flexen’s importance to Mariners, Kyle Seager’s option

Sep 23, 2021, 10:38 AM
Mariners Chris Flexen...
Mariners SP Chris Flexen pitches in the bottom of the first inning against the Oakland Athletics. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Mariners have just 10 games left in the 2021 season, and enter they Thursday 2 1/2 games back of the New York Yankees for the second American League wild card spot.

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After dropping two of three to the Boston Red Sox last week, it appeared that the Mariners had missed their shot to make the playoffs this year. While their chances are still slim, Seattle has responded by playing its best ball of the year, according to general manager Jerry Dipoto.

“Our backs are up against the wall,” Dipoto told Mike Salk during 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jerry Dipoto Show on Thursday morning. “And to the point of if somebody has written them off or not written them off, I think this team has just approached the season as if they’d been written off from the start. And that’s part of what makes them good. They bounce back and they want to show people that they’re better than they think they are.”

A big part of why the Mariners are still in contention, Dipoto said, is because of the strength of the starting rotation. The man who has anchored that rotation since the start of the season is Chris Flexen, who has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the American League in 2021.

Not too shabby for a guy who entered the season with an MLB ERA over 8.00 and pitched in Korea’s KBO in 2020.

“He has been a rock … He has been incredibly steady,” Dipoto said of Flexen.

After tossing seven innings of one run ball against the Oakland Athletics in a 4-1 Mariners win on Wednesday night, Flexen is now 13-6 on the year with a 3.56 ERA in 169 1/3 innings.

The 13 wins are tied for second-most in the AL, and Flexen has the fourth-lowest ERA in the AL. He’s also tied for fifth in the league in innings pitched and is the lone Mariners starter who has stayed in the starting rotation since opening day.

“We got a lot more than we were bargaining for when he came back over from the KBO,” Dipoto said. “And good for Chris. A lot of people don’t recognize that he just turned 27 years old. This is his 26-year-old season and there’s still so much career ahead of him and we hope a lot of it is here in Seattle.”

What exactly drew the Mariners to Flexen?

“His stuff, frankly,” Dipoto said. “His stuff and his performance in the KBO. We had a chance to watch a lot of video on Chris and there was a decided uptick in his physical stuff and a change in style in the way he pitched.”

Dipoto said that Flexen stopped throwing his fastball down in the zone as much as he had as a prospect and rookie with the Mets, and that he added velocity to his cutter while also using his changeup more.

“All of that led to a dominant season in the KBO, and it’s really carried over here. Much of what he did in Korea has translated quite well in MLB,” he said.

The Mariners – barring a trade or surprise release – will have Flexen back in the mix in 2022. It’s unclear, though, if he will still be teammates with third baseman Kyle Seager.

Seager is entering the last year of his contract and has a team option for the 2022, though it’s unclear if the Mariners will accept it. If not, Seager will hit free agency for the first time in his professional career.

So what goes into whether or not the Mariners pick up an option for Seager, or really any player?

“A lot of things. Where we are as a club, where he is as a player and what the market allows. And a lot of that is to be determined,” Dipoto said. “We’ll sit down at the end of the season and talk it through … internally and decide where we want to head with it. And a lot of what we do is going to be defined by where we think we are as a team. Obviously by where we started this conversation and how we’ve talked for much of the year, we think we are a trending team. We’ll decide on what to do about free agency, what to do about contract options when the time is appropriate, but right now we’re just going to enjoy the ride.”

Entering Thursday’s series finale in Oakland, Seager is hitting just .216 and has an on-base percentage under .300, but he hit his 35th home run on Wednesday for his 100th RBI of the season. Both those numbers are career-highs for the 11-year veteran.

Seager, like Flexen, has brought much-needed stability to the 2021 Mariners, Dipoto said.

“And I could say that stability is not season-long, it’s (been happening for) a decade. Kyle shows up and he plays,” he said. “Whether it’s last night driving in his 100th run or the fact that … you can plug in what Kyle Seager is going to do (before the season) and you’re not going to miss by a whole lot over the course for the season, and that’s something you can really rely on. The productivity offensively, he’s still a very good defensive player – there’s so many ways that he contributes. But it’s the known, the fact that he is durable, he shows up, he posts every day and you can really count on putting his name in the middle of the lineup, which is not an insignificant thing.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday on 710 ESPN Seattle. Listen to podcasts of each episode at this link.

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