Young arms, cold bats: Good, bad and ugly from Mariners’ 3-4 opening road trip

Apr 14, 2022, 3:48 PM | Updated: 3:50 pm
Mariners Matt Brash...
Matt Brash of the Seattle Mariners throws a pitch against the White Sox on Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The Mariners ended their season-opening road trip with a 5-1 win over the Chicago White Sox, meaning that they’ll go into their home opener Friday night against the Houston Astros with a 3-4 record.

Logan Gilbert sharp, Mariners homer 3 times to beat White Sox

The road trip was certainly an interesting one for the Mariners, who started the season with back-to-back wins over the Minnesota Twins before dropping four straight ahead of Thursday’s victory.

So what stood out from Seattle’s 3-4 start to the 2022 season? Let’s dive into the good, bad and ugly from the last seven days.

The Good: Young arms, Crawford, young bats on Thursday

Let’s start first with the arms before looking at the bats.

As far as starting pitching goes, the Mariners have had their ups and downs to start the year. The ups, though, were especially promising not just for now but also the future.

The two kids of Seattle’s five-man rotation – second-year starter Logan Gilbert and rookie Matt Brash – were stellar in their first starts of the year.

Gilbert, who picked up the win on Thursday, made two starts and threw 10 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) while striking out 11 and walking just one. His ERA through two starts? A miniscule 0.90.

Not bad.

Logan Gilbert has Mike Blowers’ attention after impressive ’22 debut

As he did last year, Gilbert leaned heavily on his electric fastball, but his slider looks much improved this season as he’s throwing it harder and with more consistency. He also has mixed in more curveballs as well as his changeup to left-handed hitters.

The overall improvement in the quality and quantity of his secondary pitches gives Gilbert a much better shot of being a top-of-the-rotation arm rather than a back-end starter relying exclusively on the heater.

And speaking of secondary offerings, how about that Brash kid?

In his MLB debut, Brash went 5 1/3 innings, striking out six, walking just one and allowing two runs against the White Sox. Not only did he top out at 99.2 mph with the fastball while sitting at 96.3, but his curveball and slider were just as nasty as advertised.

Brash threw those two breaking balls a combined 51 times in his 85 pitches, per Statcast, and he recorded 11 swings and misses with them while making some very good and dangerous hitters look awfully silly.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, a former MLB pitcher, was certainly impressed.

“For him to go out there and pitch against that lineup in those circumstances on a pretty chilly day, and having never pitched in a big league scenario before, I couldn’t have been happier for him and for his family,” he said during The Jerry Dipoto Show on Seattle Sports 710 AM Thursday morning. “And really, I walked away thinking if that’s the way Matt Brash goes about his business, he’s going to win a lot of games and so will we.”

And when talking about nasty stuff, that’s the name of the game for young reliever Andrés Muñoz, who’s in his first full season back after Tommy John surgery.

Muñoz has appeared in three games now, and while he did allow a two-run shot in Minnesota, that came on a 101 mph fastball up and borderline out of the zone to Twins star Byron Buxton. Not many hitters can do that.

But other than that, Muñoz has been dominant, retiring the last nine hitters he’s faced. Not only that, but his last eight outs have all been recorded via strikeout.

Muñoz topped out at 102.8 mph Thursday, a Mariners record in the Statcast era (since 2015), and his slider has been even more devastating. In his career (26 appearances), he’s allowed just one hit off the breaking ball, per Statcast.

Another cool thing about that trio of flamethrowers? All three are very young. Gilbert turns 25 in May, Brash turns 24 in May while Muñoz just turned 23 in January.

As far as the hitters go, it’s been a tough showing early on, but shortstop J.P. Crawford is off to a good start, slashing .417/.500/.542 after he picked up two more hits Thursday.

Crawford is the only Mariners regular hitting over .231 to start the year, but some of that can be attributed to some bad luck. Just ask Jesse Winker, who’s been hitting the ball hard but has been robbed by opposing outfielders a few times.

Something that was encouraging on Thursday, though, was the young guys coming through.

The trio of Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodríguez and Cal Raleigh reached base a combined six times, including four hits and two walks. They accounted for two runs scored as well as three of Seattle’s five RBIs in the win over Chicago. That’s because Kelenic and Raleigh both left the yard.

All three hitters entered Thursday with just one hit each, so it was good to see all of them reach base a few times and, in the case of Kelenic and Raleigh, hit the ball hard.

Kelenic started the day with a laser 114 mph blast off the right field foul pole in the second inning before picking up a single to left in the eighth.

Raleigh hit a towering solo blast in the seventh, getting it into the wind at Guaranteed Rate Field. It was the first career home run from the right side for the switch-hitter.

Rodríguez reached on an infield single and also stole his second base of the year.

An honorable mention here goes to Mitch Haniger, who hasn’t hit for average to start the year but does have three home runs already after swatting 39 a year ago. That was tied for second in MLB following Thursday’s game.

The Bad: Overall results at the plate

The five runs the Mariners scored Thursday are a season high. They’re averaging just three per game, though, which is among the worst in baseball.

As I mentioned, the hits just aren’t there for the Mariners, with Crawford the only one reaching regularly via base hit. Winker has worked his walks, as has Ty France (as well as by the hit by pitch). But the Mariners have struck out 61 times and are hitting just .192 as a team. Making matters worse is they’re hitting .185 with runners in scoring position.

A lot of that should turn around both naturally because of some bad luck, as well as with players getting their timing down after a strange offseason and shortened spring training. Getting back home to what should be much better weather and elements (more on that in a second) could help, too.

The Ugly: Weather

Maybe starting seasons in the American Midwest at fields without roofs isn’t the best idea, MLB.

The Mariners were supposed to start the 2022 season last Thursday in Minnesota, but it was pushed a day due to snow and cold rain in the forecast. Yup. Build a roof.

Weather wasn’t too much of an issue that opening series, but it certainly was a chilly four-game set against the Twins.

The worst of the weather came in Chicago on back-to-back days this week.

During Wednesday’s 10-4 loss, the game was delayed due to heavy rain. That rain returned very quickly after the game started, however, dumping on Mariners ace Robbie Ray in the second inning while the White Sox scored four runs. It rained more throughout the game, but the rain was so severe that inning that it started to puddle in the field and Ray appeared to change uniforms as he was soaked.

Then came Thursday, which was dry but showed why Chicago is the Windy City.

There was severe wind Thursday with strong gusts throughout the game, but the worst of the wind as far as its impact on the game came in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Adam Engel first hit a ball that appeared to be a routine flyout to shortstop J.P. Crawford, but instead it took off and landed foul. He then hit a pop fly that looked like it was going to be caught near the mound, but instead it came closer to the plate where Raleigh couldn’t hold on to it.

The very next batter then hit this.

Yeah, I’m sure the Mariners are thrilled to be coming home to Seattle. It may have rained/hailed/snowed here the last few days, but at least there’s a retractable roof over T-Mobile Park.

Jerry Dipoto Show: The latest on Mariners’ Kyle Lewis, George Kirby

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Young arms, cold bats: Good, bad and ugly from Mariners’ 3-4 opening road trip