SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer’s Mariners Notebook: Latest on Kirby and Gilbert, farm system’s standing

Aug 21, 2022, 10:20 AM
Mariners George Kirby...
George Kirby pitches for the Mariners against the Angels at T-Mobile Park on Aug. 6. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

I get a lot of questions about how the Mariners are going to manage the innings of George Kirby and Logan Gilbert with both already having eclipsed their career-high workloads.

Dipoto: Mariners’ Gilbert looking to find his balance

Kirby is at 117 1/3 innings between the majors and minors combined this season, with his previous high of 111 1/3 coming in 2019 between college and Single-A Everett, and Gilbert is at 143 1/3 with the Mariners, having surpassed his rookie season total of 124 1/3 innings between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma.

It’s a question Mariners manager Scott Servais addressed in Oakland.

“You can’t get too caught up in a number,” he said. “You have to watch how the guys are doing, how their bodies are handling the workload. Right now both George and Logan look fine as far as that goes and we will continue to monitor it. I think if you get too caught up in it… you just have to watch it, see how they are bouncing back. I’m not that concerned about it. I know everyone wants to write about it but watching it, seeing where he’s at, I’m not that concerned.”

Servais’ comments reflect what seems to be a bit of a change of course with these two, particularly Kirby. The Mariners have been clear in their goal to pitch him through then entire season, but there has been some back and forth in how they get him there. There did seem to be a focus on innings early on with talk of piggyback starts and using the All-Star break to get him rest by sending him to Triple-A and pitching him in just one two-inning outing in a 17-day time span. Coming out of that “break,” Kirby was limited to around 50 pitches his first time back out with the Mariners, then 70-80 his second. He now appears to be full-go, something he prefers.

“Just having that freedom is nice right now,” Kirby said on a recent Mariners radio pregame show. “I’m hoping it doesn’t change at all. I feel great, I’d like to go as long as I can for the rest of the season. We will see how it plays out.”

Both pitchers will be monitored closely both in their games and preparation, and in this day and age the monitoring goes well beyond the eyes of coaches and trainers. Biometrics and data are studied, as well. If there are any red flags, with six starters on the roster they can easily pull back.

As for the youngsters in the ‘pen…

Mariners’ big time relief arms

It has been so interesting to watch the development of Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash at the big league level.

With Muñoz coming off Tommy John surgery and having limited MLB experience, the Mariners took it slow at the beginning of the season, keeping him in lower-leverage situations early and avoiding back-to-back outings.

In looking at what they did with Brash, there was a little bit of “right into the fire” at the beginning when he was called up to join the bullpen, but then they backed off him a bit, giving him the opportunity to pitch in lower leverage. Lately I’ve wondered if Servais has been intentionally finding him higher-leverage situations to get him more experience for what could be coming up in October.

An example? Bringing him in with the bases loaded and just one out with the Mariners up 6-2 in the sixth inning Friday against the Athletics. Marco Gonzales had just walked the bases loaded on a bad ball four call. Seattle had the lead, Gonzales had thrown just 79 pitches, and a ground ball gets him out of the inning – and he was getting grounders in that game. Servais went to Brash, who was less likely to get the grounder. It didn’t feel like a move that had to be made, but Brash got out of the inning with a strikeout and ball to shortstop. No damage done, experience gained.

“He has been so good in those spots,” Servais said after the game. “It’s not easy for a young player but he has got a ton of confidence right now. We continue to build that. It was awesome. Big outs in the game.”

As a reliever, Brash has posted a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings, and most impressively he has stranded all eight runners he has inherited this season.

“Having him and Muñoz where you can bring those guys in the middle of traffic and work their way out with the strikeout, it’s a pretty big weapon to have,” said Servais.

Muñoz has been a different level weapon. With his three strikeouts Saturday night, he he now has 16 appearances where he has struck out three or more. That is most in MLB, ahead of Mets All-Star Edwin Díaz with 14.

Insight from Robbie Ray

It’s always fun to watch the national broadcasts and see and hear different perspectives. Also fun to sometimes hear the in-game interviews. On the FOX broadcast of the Mariners and A’s on Saturday, color commentator Eric Karros asked Robbie Ray in game what, aside from the obvious (a good contract), drew him to Seattle. Ray noted what he saw in a late-season visit with the Blue Jays to T-Mobile Park in 2021.

“Seeing the fanbase get behind the team, seeing the guys on the other side of the field, how much fun they were having, makes you want to be a part of what’s going on,” Ray answered. “I talked to some of the guys. There were a lot of factors but that was a big thing, that this team wants to win and me to be a part of it.”

The cynic would point straight to the contract, but being around Ray for the past five months I can see how what he saw on the other side would play into it. This is a guy that likes to have fun, that likes to be a part of something, and takes leading seriously. These are all things he talked about in his introductory press conference but also things we have seen on a daily basis and heard from other players about. Ray has been a great fit for the Mariners.

Farm system takes a hit, but paying off

Baseball America came out with their new organizational farm system rankings, and the Mariners took quite a tumble, falling to No. 22 after starting the year ranked No. 1.

Is there reason to be alarmed? No. With trades and graduations to the big leagues, they have lost top talent in the minors. That talent has benefited them in ways far greater than a ranking. On the pregame show roundtable this week, Aaron Goldsmith had a great analogy.

“Anybody who has been a first-time home buyer,” Goldsmith said, “you save for a long time. You build up all of this cash to put down for a down payment, and then you buy your house and you move into your house and you are so excited, and you look at your savings account and ‘What happened to my savings account?

“Well, it’s now your house, and this was the goal. The goal was to buy a house. The goal was to feed your major league team through your farm, and that’s what you have done. If the Mariners were not where they were now per the rankings, it would be a really bad time in Marinerland. This is the plan, it’s working, and by and large, it’s been a really high success rate.”

To illustrate how it is working, one needs to look no further than the 2021 Baseball America preseason top 10 for the Mariners.

• Julio Rodríguez
• Jarred Kelenic
• Logan Gilbert
• Emerson Hancock
• Noelvi Marte
• Taylor Trammell
• George Kirby
• Cal Raleigh
• Juan Then
• Andrés Muñoz

Rodríguez, Gilbert, Raleigh and Muñoz are core pieces of your big league team. Marte has been traded for another key piece. Trammell has contributed and likely will do so again in September.

We will take a closer look at this in the offseason, but this is a huge number of top prospects to have key contributions from in such a short time. Again, much more important than rankings, but on that front, Gary Hill believes they will climb back up the ranks as soon as this winter.

“I think they are going to have a couple of guys jump back into the 100s,” Hill said, “because their system is really young when you look at the high-end talent and they have a chance to get back into the teens pretty quickly with Bryce Miller, who they like, and Harry Ford. If you go down in the rankings, there’s reasons why. You graduate guys, and what happens with guys who graduate? In the Mariners’ case, you have Julio, who is probably going to be Rookie of the Year. If there was a pitcher Rookie of the Year, that could be George Kirby at this point. Their guys are having massive success for the most part.”

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Drayer’s Mariners Notebook: Latest on Kirby and Gilbert, farm system’s standing