SHANNON DRAYER

Young arms Brash, Kirby highlight Mariners’ ‘best game of the spring so far’

Mar 27, 2022, 8:25 PM
Mariners general hat glove...
A glove sits in the Mariners dugout before a game in Anaheim, Calif., in September 2021. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Sunday in Mesa, Mariners manager Scott Servais got his wish.

Prospects in M’s rotation battle take center stage

Earlier in the day, he predicted round two of the young ones, George Kirby and Matt Brash, would be fun to watch. They were indeed, but Servais got even more as the offense – which featured what very well could be the opening day lineup – hit from top to bottom, and did so against one of the better starters in the division, Oakland’s Frankie Montas.

“That was the best game of the spring so far,” Servais said after the 7-1 win over the A’s (box score). “Outstanding dominating the zone on both sides.”

The spotlight, of course, was on Brash and Kirby, two pitchers that undoubtedly will be in the big leagues this year – the only question being when. Kirby is the prized pitching prospect in the organization and No. 12 overall in Baseball America’s top 100, while Brash, a prized acquisition who has taken off since his 2020 trade to Seattle from the Padres, is No. 45 on Baseball America’s list.

Both have pitched just two seasons in the minors, and neither has pitched above Double-A. Brash, who was called up by the Mariners at the end of last season but did not pitch, has the innings total edge, throwing 97 1/3 to Kirby’s 67 2/3 in 2021. Both threw three innings against the A’s on Sunday and struck out six, and both struck out the side in their final inning.

Brash, who started the game this time after following Kirby in a game six days prior, had the smoother outing Sunday. Fastball on from the get-go, sitting 97-98 mph. Known for his slider, he said after that it was typically a slower pitch to get going at the start of the season but “was coming along,” so it was the curveball that was his main strikeout pitch against the As.

“To me what stood out was Brash’s aggressiveness early on. ‘Here it is, I’m really good, see if you can hit it,'” said Servais.

He certainly did go after hitters, throwing 50 pitches in his three innings of work, with 8 of 10 first-pitch strikes.

“Honestly, I don’t treat it very much different than last year,” Brash said. “I know my stuff is really good. When I put it in the zone good stuff happens, so with the coaching staff and all the information they give us, it’s just get it in the zone and you will get hitters out. So I was just kind of attacking the zone with all four pitches and I know good stuff is going to happen.”

One thing that has been so impressive about Brash and Kirby is that neither of them have been afraid to throw strikes this spring. It sounds easy, but for many young pitchers it can be intimidating when facing big league hitters for the first time. Strikes get hit, and a lot of young pitchers try to avoid getting hit. With Brash and Kirby, it was more about just going ahead and trying – and not in a cocky or arrogant manner. Rather, they know they have good stuff.

“It’s awesome to see my fastball plays well up in the zone. As long as I am getting ahead and I can use my off-speed pitches off the fastball, it’s good to get some swings and misses. Pretty awesome,” Kirby said with a alugh.

Yeah, it’s good to have a top arm. Kirby did run into some bumps early but worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and came out aggressive in the second. He admitted he was a little nervous at the start having not come out of the bullpen since the Cape Cod League.

Whereas Brash was all about the fun following his appearance (having his family down from Canada to see him pitch professionally for the first time didn’t hurt), Kirby was a bit more analytical. He noted that the big league baseball is a little different and that took some adjusting to in early bullpens. He’s also worked on pitching out of the stretch in his bullpens because that is something he just hasn’t had to do a lot previously because he hasn’t had many baserunners. A good and fixable problem to have.

“It’s something that is sometimes a little uncomfortable, and just the more I have been working on it in practice, the more I have been comfortable out there,” Kirby said.

A good day on the pitching side was matched by the offense, which got to Montas early by putting three runs on the board in the first inning. Adam Frazier led off the game with a double, Ty France drove him in with a first-pitch single the other way, and Eugenio Suárez picked him up on a home run to left center with an exit velocity of 112 mph.

The Mariners scored seven runs on 11 hits, with Dylan Moore and Cal Raleigh each hitting their first home run of the spring.

The Mariners are back in Peoria on Monday with Robbie Ray scheduled to start against the Rangers.

New Mariners RHP Sergio Romo not shy about sharing his experience

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