Drayer: If this is breakout season for Mariners’ Logan Gilbert, he’s off to great start

Apr 21, 2022, 4:33 PM

Mariners Logan Gilbert...

Logan Gilbert high-fives teammates at the end of his outing in Wednesday's Mariners win. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Three turns of the Mariners’ rotation in, the expectation for many may have been that Robbie Ray, coming off his Cy Young-winning 2021 season, would be the statistical leader of the pitching staff. While Ray has done nothing to disappoint, it has been rookie Matt Brash who has grabbed the lion’s share of the attention – and why not, with the rookie’s ridiculous stuff and confidence to match?

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Neither player has claimed the spot of the statistical leader among Mariners starters, however.

No, that distinction goes to Logan Gilbert, whose 0.54 ERA, 15.0 strikeouts to walk ratio and 0.5 walks per nine innings are the best among Mariners starters and – as of Thursday morning – across all of MLB.

Have a season start, Logan Gilbert.

Offseason changes that Gilbert made have translated nicely into the season, and if you had him picked to be a breakout player in 2022, you perhaps are feeling a little giddy at this point.

(Insert perfunctory “it’s early” disclaimer here.)

Now that that’s out of the way, the good stuff.

If we learned anything about Gilbert in his first partial season in the big leagues, it is that he is driven. Mariners catcher Tom Murphy put it best when he said, “A guy like that who is so involved in everything he can possibly put his hands on with baseball? It’s really impressive to see from a young guy to be that dedicated.”

It was that dedication that enabled Gilbert to take on the gargantuan task of changing multiple pitches in his repertoire. When he got to the big leagues, it became apparent that quick adjustments were needed with his offspeed and breaking pitches. The Mariners saw it and he knew it, admitting he was never comfortable with his curveball last year and that there were games where he had “one, maybe two pitches.”

With an elite fastball, Gilbert could get away with being a two- and sometimes just one-pitch pitcher, but his goals are set higher than surviving with what he’s got. To that end, he took on the task of reshaping his pitches this offseason, with the initial reviews this spring glowing.

Spring training: With better secondary pitches, Gilbert keeps raising ceiling

Over his first three starts, it is clear he didn’t leave those pitches in Arizona. He’s added a few mph to his breaking and offspeed pitches, tightening them up to enable him to better command them in the strike zone, which was the goal of his offseason work.

“The main thing is to have multiple offspeed pitches in the zone,” he said. “Everything is a little tighter, sharper. I don’t really want huge movement; I want enough movement. Everything just coming off the fastball.”

Thinking fastball with all of his pitches and working off the glove side have helped with his tunneling as evidenced by some of the swing and misses we have seen early.

“He’s realized all his pitches need to look the same,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently. “The need to tunnel correctly (is important), otherwise big league hitters just recognize it. They’ve seen too many curveballs and sliders in their careers and they just don’t swing at it. He’s made some really big adjustments.”

Adjustments he is still getting comfortable with. Despite the early success, Gilbert has yet to throw a game where he felt he had everything working for him.

“I don’t think I had my best stuff,” he said Wednesday night. “I had things that worked good enough. I wouldn’t say anything was nails. A couple of good sliders and then a couple bad sliders. The curveball, OK.”

Whereas last year he might have to lean almost exclusively on the fastball on a night like Wednesday, he could still be aggressive with the new, more controllable slider. It may not have been perfect but it was enough. If you were worried about the hard hits off Gilbert on an “off” night, know that he wasn’t.

“I just don’t want to beat myself out there,” he said. “If I give up hard hits, contact, I want to make them beat me. I want to be aggressive in the zone. That’s a big part of what I want to do.”

Perhaps the best part of Gilbert’s 2-0, 0.54 ERA start is he believes there is better to come. If so, this could be a ton of fun to watch.

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Drayer: If this is breakout season for Mariners’ Logan Gilbert, he’s off to great start