SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Notebook: Prospects battling for rotation spot take center stage

Mar 27, 2022, 11:40 AM
Mariners Scott Servais...
Mariners manager Scott Servais shakes hands with a young fan before Saturday's game against the Brewers. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

While sometimes more can be accomplished by staying back at the Mariners’ spring training complex rather than “traveling” to attend a spring road game, there are absolutely no excuses not to make the drive to Mesa, Ariz., to watch Game Minus-9.

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The veterans are traveling and two competitors for the still open fifth spot in the rotation are scheduled to pitch in the 1:05 p.m. game against the Oakland A’s, which will air live on Seattle Sports 710 AM. This is about as good as it gets for a spring road game.

Matt Brash, MLB Pipeline’s No. 98 overall prospect and No. 6 M’s prospect, will get the start with George Kirby (No. 32 overall and No. 3) to follow, reversing the order of their first appearance six days ago against the Diamondbacks. That day, each pitcher faced major league hitters for the first time. The results, a little bit different.

“I’m looking for both to be a little more comfortable,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Sunday morning. “I thought both of them threw the ball fine the last time. Brash’s results were a little bit better than George’s were, but they both (have an) opportunity to see what the second outing looks like.”

The 24-year-old Kirby’s mound presence and composure will be of interest as he showed a bit too much frustration on the hill when a couple of calls did not go his way. It is far from a major concern, but reputation with umpires is important and you don’t want to see frustration impacting performance. Servais was happy to see a few of the 2019 first-round MLB Draft pick’s teammates talk to him about the episode following the start.

“Composure is a big thing – and mound presence,” he said. “It’s going to happen, so learn from it. He knows. He’s super competitive and I don’t want to take that away, but being able to handle that without showing quite as much emotion will probably help him down the road.”

Brash, a 2019 fourth-round pick by the Padres who will turn 24 in May, will be looking to build off a smooth first outing. While he emerged from his two innings unscathed, what we didn’t see was much of his third pitch, the changeup, which he threw just once. Had this been a normal spring and he was looking at six outings rather than three, it is likely that pitch would have been worked on in his first couple of appearances. The fact that he didn’t throw it was not a concern for Servais.

“I think both should go out there and show their best stuff,” he said. “They are both competing for a job.”

While Kirby and Brash have grabbed the spotlight in the battle for the fifth spot, also in the running are Justus Sheffield, Levi Stoudt and Nick Margevicius. The Mariners very well could elect to get the younger pitchers time at Triple-A before they call them up. What do they have to gain with more time in the minors?

“Experience,” said Servais. “Exposure to major league hitters. Guys aren’t going to chase, pitch counts go up quicker. The 3-4-5 in a Triple-A lineup typically have major league experience, which is different from Double-A. It’s a little bit different.”

It’s an interesting call to make, and it is not just about the players themselves. Unlike 2021, this Mariners season will not be devoted to getting young players experience. The balance of how the players’ development impacts the team in terms of wins and losses comes into play with a team that has expectations much higher than a year ago. Is it better to have a young pitcher get experience against major leaguers via the 3-4-5’s he could face in a Triple-A lineup, or to learn on the job in games that count? Can that player contribute while learning? It’s all part of the decision.

Either way, Brash and Kirby are not far off.

“I do think both have a chance to be high-end starters,” said Servais. “I am looking forward to see those guys out there. They are fun to watch pitch.”

Did I mention a lineup?

Lineup!

(Or perhaps, Lineup?)

Adam Frazier, 2B
Ty France, 1B
Jesse Winker, LF
Mitch Haniger, DH
Eugenio Suárez, 3B
Jarred Kelenic, CF
Julio Rodríguez, RF
Luis Torrens, C
J.P. Crawford, SS

Matt Brash, SP

Mariners notes

• Relievers Ryan Buchter (LHP), Wyatt Mills, Anthony Misiewicz (LHP) and Erik Swanson are also scheduled or listed as available to pitch Sunday for the Mariners.

• Upcoming probables have yet to be announced but it appears Robbie Ray will throw Monday against the Rangers, then Logan Gilbert on Tuesday against the Royals and Marco Gonzales Wednesday at the Cubs.

• Ask and you shall receive. Quite often the previous year’s No. 1 pick gets a chance to take a swing or two in a Cactus League game, and it looks like 19-year-old catcher Harry Ford could get that opportunity next week. The 12th overall selection in the 2021 MLB Draft straight out of high school by the M’s, Ford was seen by major league coaches in minor league minicamp while the big league players were still locked out, and he has done nothing but impress.

“High school catching is the slowest position to develop,” said Servais. “Those three years in college really help speed up your development and ability to move through a system. With Harry, he’s wired a little bit differently. He carries himself, he asks great questions, he pays attention. He’s got a really good throwing arm, he’s learning nuances, but the little bit I’ve been around him, super athletic. I really do see him staying behind the plate. He’s a really exciting player.”

With the big league camps starting and running late, teams will lose the bulk of their late-inning replacements this year as most of the minor leagues teams will break camp before they do and head to their affiliate cities. This will open up opportunities for Ford and others starting next Wednesday.

• If you were surprised to hear Jesse Winker took some wall work with a first baseman’s glove prior to yesterday’s workout, you weren’t the only one.

“That was news to me,” said Servais. “I think he likes hanging around with (Mariners infield coach) Perry Hill.”

Previous M’s Notebook: Flexen not sharp but bats produce in tie with Brewers

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