Mariners 3 Up, 3 Down: Rodríguez and Ray trending up, but bats still cold
The Mariners followed up a tough 2-7 road trip with a disappointing 2-5 homestand, dropping both their series to the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies.
As was the case during that road trip, Seattle struggled to string together hits and runs against its two visiting opponents.
“Offensively again, not a ton going today,” manager Scott Servais said after Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Phillies. “A couple guys, (Adam) Frazier had a couple of hits, Ty France again, but just up and down the lineup (we) struggled to get any consistency going to get our lineup flowing.”
Now the Mariners hit the road for the next 11 days sitting four games under .500, tied for their worst mark of the season.
So, let’s see what’s trending up and down after this most recent homestand.
1) Robbie Ray ends homestand strong
New Mariners ace Robbie Ray has yet to really put together an outing reminiscent of his 2021 Cy Young campaign, but he appears to be turning things around as evidenced by his start on Tuesday.
Ray threw 5 2/3 innings against Philadelphia, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks while striking out a season-high 10 batters and registering 21 swings and misses in a 5-4 Mariners win.
Robbie Ray: "I definitely felt like everything was clicking tonight. The fastball was really good. The slider was as good as it's ever been. It felt like my timing, everything, was right where it needed to be."
A look at his 10 strikeouts: pic.twitter.com/vdcp3XmelC
— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) May 11, 2022
“I thought it was one of his better games he’s had so far as a Mariner,” Servais said after Ray’s start. “Really sharp. The fastball had really good life up in the zone, and that’s where he’s at his best. Fastball at the top and slider down below.”
The pure stuff was excellent from Ray with his electric slider causing 15 whiffs, and his average fastball velocity of 93.4 mph was a welcome sight considering prior to the start his season average was 92.6 mph, per Statcast.
“I definitely felt like everything was clicking,” Ray said. “There’s still work to be done, but I felt like this was a really, really good step in the right direction.”
While the start overall was very encouraging, one issue that has plagued Ray in 2022 showed up yet again. That was the “big inning.”
Ray retired the first 12 men he faced before allowing a Nick Castellanos home run to lead off the fifth inning. The Phillies would score an additional run thanks to Jean Segura walking, advancing to second on a fly out, then advancing to third and later scoring thanks to two wild pitches on Ray sliders.
Ray this year has commonly pitched well throughout his starts aside from one inning where the opponent gets to him. That’s especially been the case in his four most recent outings.
In his fourth start of 2022, Ray allowed two runs, both coming in the third inning to the Kansas City Royals. Ray’s next start was pretty similar to his Tuesday start. Against the Miami Marlins, he pitched very well in his first four innings before allowing three runs in the fifth. And in his last start prior to Tuesday’s win over the Phillies, Ray pitched five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing four runs over 6 2/3 innings. All four of Tampa Bay’s runs came in the fourth inning.
That Ray was able to punch out 10 and give up just the two runs while working into the sixth inning on Tuesday was very encouraging, especially as it came against a tough Phillies lineup.
Ray will look to have his top-tier stuff yet again this Sunday when he takes on the New York Mets, one of the best teams in baseball. But Ray will also need to avoid the big inning that has been an issue for him this season.
2. George Kirby’s electric debut
The Mariners haven’t won much of late, but they were able to pick up a much-needed win over the Rays on Sunday thanks to the MLB debut of top pitching prospect George Kirby.
Kirby didn’t make the MLB rotation out of camp, but he replaced the man who beat him out for the job in Matt Brash, who struggled in his first taste of big league action.
All Kirby did during his debut was have the best start of any Mariners pitcher making their MLB debut in franchise history. It was also arguably the best start of any Mariners pitcher this season.
Facing a perennial playoff team in the Rays, Kirby threw six scoreless innings, striking out seven while allowing only four hits and no walks. He needed just 81 pitches to do so, as well.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) May 9, 2022
It took a bit for the Mariners’ offense to score that game with both of their runs coming in the ninth and 10th innings, but Kirby’s start was certainly a welcome sight for a team that has really struggled of recently.
“I think when he fell behind in counts – he had a couple of three-ball counts, even a couple 3-0 counts – and (was able to) get back into the count and win that at-bat, it sticks out. You don’t typically see that,” Servais said Wednesday of what impressed him with Kirby’s debut. ” … It’s not ideal to get behind, but when he got behind he was able to get back into counts and win those at-bats. Pretty unique (when) making your major league debut.”
Brash has electric stuff but was wildly inconsistent with his command, allowing hitters to wait him out for good pitches to hit when he did eventually find the strike zone. Kirby doesn’t have the same kind of stuff that Brash does, but he is pretty nasty in his own regard.
Kirby sits in the mid to high 90s with his fastball and also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. And, unlike Brash, there’s no worry with Kirby finding the zone, as he’s routinely been among the best strike throwers in whichever league he’s pitched in since college.
What really bodes well for Kirby going forward is he recorded 15 swings and misses on Sunday, and 13 came via the fastball, per Statcast.
After making his MLB debut at home, Kirby will make his second start “at home” in a way as well as the native of New York (the state) is scheduled to pitch against the Mets on Saturday.
3. Juliooooooo keeps hitting
Remember when Julio Rodríguez got off to a slow start at the plate?
If it feels like forever since that happened, well, it’s because he’s been really good at the plate for about a month now.
Entering Wednesday, Rodríguez was slashing .348/.400/.478 for the homestand.
But let’s stretch it out even further.
Over his last 10 games entering Wednesday, Rodríguez was slashing .351/.385/.514.
And over the 25 games prior to Wednesday, Rodríguez was slashing .294/..356/.391.
After his 1 for 4 outing in the last game of the homestand, Rodríguez is now slashing .254/.315/.342 for the year. He also picked up another RBI, giving him 11 this year.
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) May 11, 2022
Not bad, huh?
What makes Rodríguez’s last month even more impressive isn’t just that the Mariners overall have struggled at the plate of late (more on that later), but that fellow top prospects have really failed to get their footing at the big league level this season.
See the following tweet, which was posted Tuesday afternoon from Joe Doyle of Prospects Live, to see what I mean.
Top 100 in '22
Bobby Witt Jr: .229/.260/.333
Julio Rodriguez: .255/.319/.349
Spencer Torkelson: .159/.274/.280
CJ Abrams: .182/.270/.273
Luis Campusano: .083/.077/.083
Bryson Stott: .122/.163/.146
Josh Lowe: .188/.257/.344
Jose Miranda: .154/.214/.346
Jeremy Peña: .242/.305/.495
— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) May 10, 2022
And by the way, Rodríguez has yet to showcase his tremendous power as he has hit only one home run so far. When that part of his game clicks? He won’t be fun to face for opposing pitchers – not that he has been of late, either.
1. The bats remain cold
The Mariners’ recent hitting woes carried over into this homestand, with the team hitting just .227 during the seven games, including .226 with runners in scoring position while scoring just three runs per contest.
The team did have its chances this last week, though, but the Mariners left 53 runners on base, “good” for 7.6 per game.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, there are only a small amount of guys doing the heavy lifting, similar to last season.
“It’s gonna take a lot of guys chipping in,” Servais said after Wednesday’s loss.
Someone who hasn’t been chipping in who was expected to is 2021 All-Star outfielder Jesse Winker, who went 1 for 4 with a soft single on Wednesday and is slashing .204/.311/.274 this season.
On Wednesday, Servais made it clear that Winker is someone the team is looking to get it rolling at the plate. Specifically, Servais is looking for Winker to have improved timing against fastballs going forward.
“Jesse Winker is still struggling to get going. This guy is a really good offensive player and he hasn’t been able to find his groove, so to speak,” he said. “I think teams are consistently going after him with the fastball. He’s historically been a good fastball hitter, (but now) he’s late, he’s not catching up to it and he’s not getting on top of it while swinging.”
Servais said that Winker needs to make an adjustment going forward and “he knows that.”
“We talked earlier today about it,” he said. “Again, he’s very talented player. You don’t put up the numbers he has put up in this league and have the success he’s had without having that kind of talent. He’s got to get it to come out, and it’s a struggle right now.”
2. Diego Castillo’s ballooning numbers
At last year’s trade deadline, the Mariners added what looked to be a long-term late-innings option to what was an already good bullpen thanks to a deal with the Rays.
That pitcher? Diego Castillo, who owned a sub-3 ERA and a 3.58 FIP in his career with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Castillo was solid for the Mariners down the stretch, posting a 2.86 ERA in 22 innings, though he had a 4.67 FIP.
Castillo was good to start 2022, with a 1.86 ERA and 2.48 FIP over his first 10 outings. His three most recent outings, however, have left a lot to be desired.
After giving up a run while recording just one out on the road in Houston, Castillo returned home and posted two really poor appearances.
Against his former team on Saturday, Castillo entered the eighth inning with the Mariners down 3-1. He failed to record a single out and allowed five earned runs while walking one and allowing three hits, one of which was a grand slam.
Don't wait for another pitch when you're feeling grand pic.twitter.com/2ReENFqg37
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 8, 2022
Castillo entered Monday’s game against the Phillies with the Mariners down 6-0, and he again struggled mightily, allowing three runs and getting only two batters out.
Now? Castillo has a 9.28 ERA for the season.
The good news for the Mariners is that Castillo is a proven arm who should bounce back. Additionally, the team is expected to get veteran reliever Sergio Romo back for the coming road trip.
The bad news? Castillo’s struggles are coming at a time where Romo and Ken Giles are on the shelf. Additionally, Seattle is without shutdown reliever Casey Sadler for the season, and 2021 late-inning stopper Drew Steckenrider has a 3.86 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 12 outings this season and has yet to pitch a 1-2-3 inning.
3. The next stretch is a tough one
The Mariners now hit the road after the 2-5 homestand and, unfortunately for them, the next stretch of their schedule is pretty brutal after Thursday’s off day.
First up, a three-game set with the Mets, who are one of just six teams in baseball to reach 20 wins so far his year, are expected to roll out tough righty Chris Bassitt on Friday, future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer on Saturday and veteran Carlos Carrasco on Sunday.
After that series, the Mariners will return to Canada for the first time since 2019 when they take on the Toronto Blue Jays, who have struggled of late but are over .500 and possess one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball.
Then, the Mariners travel to Boston to take on the Red Sox for four games. Boston has struggled out of the gate like Seattle, especially offensively, but the Red Sox have some big-name stars and are always tough to play at Fenway Park.
After those 10 games in a row, the Mariners will then return home for division games against the Oakland A’s and Houston Astros with an off day in between the two series.