SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer on Mariners: 11 things that stand out through 10 games

Apr 19, 2022, 8:17 AM
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Julio Rodríguez reacts after his single in the second inning against the Astros on Friday. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s hard to even begin to know where to start when it comes to first impressions through 10 games for the 2022 Seattle Mariners. In short, we’ve seen a lot.

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The sum of the parts add up to a 5-5 record. The parts themselves? For the large part, encouraging.

Numbers.

With so few games played, one series can send the numbers rocketing or careening in one direction, so take these with a grain of salt. But why not enjoy them, at least for a week, as the Mariners are currently fifth in the American League in wRC+ (105) and are doing so with the fourth-lowest batting average on balls in play (.250). Would it surprise you to know their strikeout rate is sixth-best at 23.8%, and they own the second-best walk rate in the American League at 10.9%?

Young ones and Eugenio Suárez aside, the Mariners have done a nice job of controlling the zone early.

They are hitting the ball hard.

Game to game, the exit velocities have been impressive, but it really hit home hard during the Astros series. In the wins on Friday and Sunday, the Mariners owned the top five exit velocities, with the Astros taking Game 2 thanks to Justin Verlander on the hill. For the series, the Mariners put 27 balls in play that were hit over 100 mph. The Astros? Thirteen. The significance? The harder a ball is hit, the likelier it is to fall in for a hit. Balls hit over 100 mph have a great chance to do damage.

The eye-opener? Instead of seeing names of players that have battered Mariners pitching the last five years like Altuve, Bregman, Álvarez (who was out for the series), Gurriel, or Brantley (or Correa or Springer, who are no longer Astros), the players who who had multiple 100 mph-plus offerings were the Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, Ty France, Tom Murphy, Cal Raleigh, Mitch Haniger and Jarred Kelenic.

Matt Brash

If you felt good about Matt Brash’s big league debut, his follow-up six-walk effort on Sunday should have you over the moon. In his MLB debut in Chicago, he had it all going. Sunday, the command wasn’t there. His response? No panic. He was ready for it.

“I’m going to have some traffic on the bases,” Brash said. “I’m a very aggressive pitcher and my stuff moves a lot so sometimes I will be out of the zone, but when a guy gets on I am always confident I can get out of the inning, especially with this defense behind me. I was super confident I could get the next guy out.”

One of the concerns about Brash coming in was the command, but it wasn’t his concern apparently. Good to see he’s not going to sacrifice stuff for that command; rather, he’s learned to work with and around it. Rather than panicking when he wasn’t landing his off-speed pitches or getting swings on his breaking balls, he kept throwing them knowing there were still outs with those pitches. He did make an adjustment in throwing his fastball lower in the zone to get the ball on the ground and was rewarded by not just the outs but six swings and misses on that pitch, compared to none the previous outing.

Matt Brash faced the Astros on a day that was less than his best and dominated them, not giving up a hit until the sixth inning. Impressive.

The defense

Surprise! The defense has not been as shaky is it appeared to be on paper coming in. Eye test here but Jesse Winker looks like a big league left fielder. After the trade, some would have you believe he was a liability in the outfield and we simply haven’t seen that. He’s been solid.

Rodríguez is handling center. I think it’s important to point out he’s not a natural there, he’s not going to look like the Gold Glovers do, but again, is getting the job done. As is Jarred Kelenic, who also showed off the arm with a throw from right field, wherever he has played. The three in the outfield have been nothing spectacular but also nothing terribly concerning as of yet. This is a positive.

The infield and catcher defense has been about as expected with Suárez, another player whose glove was a concern heading into the season, holding his own at third base with a DRS of zero in the early going.

Andrés Muñoz is good

I mean, when Dennis Eckersley is talking about you during a Red Sox broadcast, do you need much more affirmation?

Spring training stats mean nothing.

J.P. Crawford laughs at your Cactus League numbers. Great to see Crawford get off to a good start hitting .355/.500/.452 with a team-leading 200 wRC+. Not reflected in this number is what he does when he doesn’t get on base as he’s moved runners over when necessary, as well.

Crawford is currently eighth in fWAR between Juan Soto and Manny Machado and 15th in wRC+.

He’s that fast

Guess who leads baseball in sprint speed on April 18, 2022? That would be Julio Rodríguez at 29.6 feet per second. Julio is followed by Jo Adell at 29.5, Brandon Marsh 29.4, Tyler O’Neill 29.3 and Trea Turner 29.2.

The Julio strike zone

Julio Rodríguez leads baseball with a 45.7% strikeout rate. No surprise he is getting pitched tough but a number of the calls have been flat-out bad. Young players are going to get tested by opposing pitchers and umpires, but a strike is a strike and you don’t want Julio swinging at balls. So far he has stayed in his approach and has not expanded, which is important. He’s also not reacted poorly to the bad calls, which is also important, but at some point he has got to be rewarded for his good eye, not punished.

Bullpen depth

This could be a short-term concern but the depth was tested from the get-go, the Mariners losing Casey Sadler and Ken Giles to injury in spring training and Sergio Romo two appearances into the season. On a positive note, Roenis Elías is making his way back from Tommy John surgery having thrown in two games for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. The Mariners want him 100% before bringing him up. With teams limited to 13 pitchers after May 1, his versatility will be needed.

MIA

Is it time to put an APB out for Chris Flexen’s grounders? For a pitcher who wasn’t going to strike out guys, getting the ball on the ground last year was a huge part of Flexen’s success. That hasn’t happened in his first two outings as he has seen his ground ball percentage drop from 42% to a career-low 29.4%. Pair this with a 61.8% hard hit rate and it’s clear he’s not where he wants to be quite yet. The 3 1/2 weeks of spring training may not have been enough for Flexen.

Roster

This will likely work itself out but it is hard to see a three-catcher rotation as ideal for the long haul. If Cal Raleigh is to be the catcher of the future, he will need consistent at-bats.

Working Abraham Toro into games has felt awkward, as well. Originally when he came to the Mariners, it appeared he would finally be given what general manager Jerry Dipoto likes to call “some runway” to get his big league career going. Without a position, that can be tough. While he has been given six out of 10 possible starts so far, those starts won’t come easily if he doesn’t put up numbers and he is off to a slow start, hitting .087 in 23 plate appearances. It’s early, but without a permanent position the pressure he felt in Houston is probably not much different here.

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