Drayer: How Mariners’ starting rotation has gone on franchise-best run
While the lack of offense has grabbed the Mariners headlines the past couple of weeks, the starting pitching very quietly has been more than holding up their end of the bargain, giving the team a chance to win day in and day out.
On June 1 in Baltimore, Robbie Ray allowed four runs in the Mariners’ 9-2 loss to the Orioles. Since that day, Ray and his fellow starters have not allowed more than three runs in any start. The 21 consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs is a new club record and the second-longest streak in the majors this year behind Boston, which had a streak of 23.
“That’s pretty darn impressive,” said Paul Sewald in his walkoff interview following the Mariners’ 2-1 win Thursday in Oakland. “That’s four times through the rotation without somebody having one bad game. You talk about a month of good pitching? That’s really impressive.”
“The guys are putting in the work,” said Ray. “One guy after the other. Just watching the guy ahead of you, you just want to go out and do the same thing or better. Just keep it rolling. I think that is something we have going, just challenge each other to be better every time we go out.”
And they have gotten better as a group, improving from ranking 13th in WAR and 14th in FIP in the American League in May to eighth in WAR in sixth in FIP in June.
“I think it is something that has to happen organically,” said Ray. “You can’t force that kind of situation. It was kind of a lead by example kind of thing. Logan (Gilbert) has been having the year that he has been having and everybody has just been jumping on board with it.”
It is a tight-knit group with the Mariners using just six starting (and one reliever called upon to “open” a game in the doubleheader) pitchers in the first three months of the season. The group watches each other’s bullpen sessions and individuals can even sometimes be seen talking to that day’s starter in between innings. Their stuff may be different, but their approach, shared.
“For us as starting pitchers, the biggest thing that we have been focusing on is first pitch strikes and winning counts,” Ray said. “Any time you get the other team on the defensive, getting strike one is huge. We all have good enough stuff to get guys out, it’s a lot easier to pitch when you are ahead than when you are behind.”
Quicker outs have resulted with the Mariners starters jumping from 10th in the AL in innings in April to first in June. With bullpens now limited to eight relievers, getting deeper into games will be a big benefit. We saw some of that benefit Thursday in Oakland.
“I think we are a little bit rested,” said Sewald. “I think that’s why you saw our relievers sharp today and they will be sharp in L.A.”
As the Mariners have tried to get the offense figured out, it is the rotation has emerged as the group that can be leaned on. While they can’t score the runs – and it is worth noting the assist they have received from the defense, which ranks first in fielding percentage and errors – the starters have given this team a chance to win day in and day out.