SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Notebook: George Kirby, Matt Brash jump into possible rotation battle

Mar 21, 2022, 6:55 PM | Updated: Mar 27, 2022, 11:21 am
Mariners base general...
A general view of a base before a Seattle Mariners game against the Oakland Athletics on Sept. 27, 2021. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

If it turns out that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is not able to bring in another arm for the rotation from the outside and there instead is a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, it is game on.

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The young arms in camp have not disappointed in the early going with the main event taking place Monday afternoon in Scottsdale. Pitching prospects George Kirby and Matt Brash both saw their first spring action for the Mariners in the game against the Diamondbacks, and manager Scott Servais’ postgame comments were accompanied by a smile he could not hide.

“There’s a lot to get excited about. Also got a few things to work on,” he said. “I thought their stuff was outstanding.”

Servais had a couple of times prior expressed curiosity as to how Kirby in particular would react to facing big league hitters in a game for the first time. For some, unexpected nerves or adrenaline get the best of them the first time out, but that was not the case for Kirby. He struck out Josh VanMeter, the first batter he faced, on three straight pitches that clocked 96, 97 and 99 mph.

After that, though, challenges.

A two-out single on a breaking pitch was followed by a wind-aided Jordan Luplow home run that just cleared the right field fence to put two runs on the board. Kirby would escape the inning without further damage but got touched up for four runs in the next, which ended his outing.

According to Servais, what he takes from the outing is more important than his line of 1 2/3 innings, five hits, six runs, one walk, three strikeouts and a balk that occurred when he dropped the ball on the mound after a visit from the pitching coach.

“Kirb got some balls up in the damage zone,” said Servais. “Guys after they see him and see what kind of arm he has got, they will be up there aggressive and hacking. He will learn from today. I liked what I saw. Very competitive, I don’t think he got much help from the umpire in one inning, you saw his frustration. That’s part of the growing and learning process.”

“It was awesome,” Kirby said of his first big league spring training outing. “I felt really good, I filled the zone very well, mixed in my off-speed pretty well. Never dropped the ball on the mound before in my life before, hope that never happens again, but overall I thought it was great. Stat line wasn’t the best but for my sake it went well.”

It was good to see Kirby mix in all of his pitches although he admitted he might have gone to the chanegeup a bit too much in the second inning. In all, the start left him wanting more.

“I’m ready for the next one. It will be fun,” he said.

Brash, who was called up to the Mariners in the final week of last season but did not make his MLB debut, had a much smoother outing, allowing just one hit in two innings pitched while both walking and striking out one. Though he displayed a good fastball, it was his breaking pitches that stood out.

“The slider, I was trying to mix it in there. I was getting a lot of takes on it,” Brash said.

He admitted that the experience in Seattle late last season was huge motivation in how he prepared for this year.

“I want to be up there,” he said. “I want to help this team win games. That was my outlook.”

In addition to Kirby and Brash, Levi Stoudt could compete for the fifth rotation spot. He had a strong outing earlier in the week, and while the stakes are high, the competition could not be friendlier. The three are part of a tight-knit pitching group that has come through the Mariners system together. They talk pitching with each other at the field and golf together away from it. They understand that they all bring something different to the mound and believe each one can help the big league team.

Mariners notes

• Away from the pitching, there were not a lot of highlights in the Mariners’ 9-1 loss to the Diamondbacks. Servais felt they had better at-bats than in previous games, though. Abraham Toro went 2 for 3, driving in the Mariners’ only run.

• Julio Rodríguez showed off the legs, stealing second after getting on base with a single. Speed has been an offseason focus for Rodríguez the last two winters, and it has paid off with his sprint speed on that stolen base coming in just under what is considered elite.

“He’s one of our fastest guys in camp,” said Servais. “He has the green light like all these guys in spring training. He’s not going to hold back.”

• Ex-Mariner alert: It was good to see Josh Wilson – “The Paperboy” – in the press box before the game. Wilson, who was with the Mariners in 2009 and 2010, is now a scout for the Detroit Tigers.

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