WYMAN AND BOB

MLB Network’s Morosi: Why Mariners’ pitching is as deep, certain as any in AL

Sep 4, 2022, 4:45 PM | Updated: 4:46 pm
Mariners George Kirby Logan Gilbert Robbie Ray...
George Kirby is greeted by fellow Mariners pitchers Robbie Ray and Logan Gilbert in Detroit on Aug. 30. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

The Mariners’ offense has come around on their road trip this week, as Seattle scored at least four runs in each of its wins on its current win six-game win streak entering Sunday. The pitching, meanwhile, has just kept up on its incredible pace.

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Seattle’s pitching staff went into Sunday not having allowed more than four runs in any of the team’s last 11 games, with the M’s holding their opponents to three or less runs in all but one of those games. Not coincidentally, Seattle is 9-2 over that stretch.

The Mariners’ pitching jumps out to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, who sees teams from all over the league throughout the season in person.

“I have not seen many teams that are as deep and as certain of their pitching as the Mariners are right now,” Morosi said Thursday in his weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob. “… I think Houston’s probably the one other team in the American League whose pitching right now looks as good as Seattle’s, and honestly (Astros ace Justin) Verlander just went on the IL. Right now, if I’m Seattle, I’m feeling really good about the way my pitching lines up. I look around and I don’t see too many obvious weaknesses. … So full credit to (manager) Scott Servais that they’ve got things lined up exceptionally well right now for the Mariners’ pitching.”

Morosi is known for having a positive outlook when he joins Wyman and Bob, and he admitted as much in the interview. He then added it’s not hard to find reasons to be positive about the M’s right now.

“Usually I’m Mr. Optimism but my optimism scanner is like picking up everything right now. There’s not a whole lot to find fault with at the moment,” he said of the M’s.

There are numerous reasons for Morosi making those statements, particularly when it comes to Seattle’s pitching. Here are a few of them he hit on while talking to Dave Wyman and Bob Stelton.

A different dimension in the bullpen

The Mariners opened their road trip with a 9-3 win over the Tigers in Detroit on Tuesday, and they used their sizable early lead to give that day’s starter, rookie George Kirby, a rest. So they turned to Chris Flexen, who was moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen after Seattle’s trade deadline acquisition of Luis Castillo, who gave them four innings to close out the victory.

“I think Flexen, the way that he has pitched and obviously having a very good outing on Tuesday in that game, I think sets a really good tone for pitching depth,” Morosi said. “… You see a guy like Flexen coming in, giving you four innings for the series opener – obviously he’s been a little bit marginalized because of the arrival of Castillo and the way that (George) Kirby has pitched – but he’s gonna be a guy that you’re gonna need to hear from in the month of October, which is the way the Mariners are going.”

The 28-year-old Flexen pitched well as a starter this season, and he now owns a 3.92 ERA in 24 appearances (21 starts). Having his ability to go multiple innings could be big for Seattle if they make the playoffs and play a three-game series in the wild card round.

“If you’re playing Game 3, yes, you have a starting pitcher, but that’s an all hands on deck game,” Morosi said. “… I think you have so many options right now as the Mariners (out of the bullpen) that the starter of that game, it’s not an afterthought but it’s not as big of a decision because whoever comes in in the fourth or fifth inning is going to be just as huge of a decision.”

The two young guns

While Flexen is in the bullpen, the Mariners have two homegrown standouts helping hold down the fort in the rotation in Logan Gilbert and Kirby.

Gilbert, 25, has bounced back with strong starts in his his last two outings after a rough patch in August, most notably Thursday when he held the Tigers scoreless on just two hits and a walk over six innings.

“The way that he has pitched of late, I’ve been really impressed,” Morosi said of Gilbert. “I think the middle part of the year there was maybe a little bit of a diminishment in his stuff, but he has popped right back and looks outstanding. That to me is a really reassuring step for the Mariners.”

The 24-year-old Kirby, meanwhile, was named American League Rookie of the Month for August after posting a 2.15 ERA with 34 strikeouts to just three walks over five starts (29 1/3 innings) in the month.

“He deserves more credit than he’s been given, I think, and he’s someone that the Mariners internally always talked about as being someone that they were excited about and were gonna look to for the future,” Morosi said of Kirby.

Something in particular with Kirby jumps out to Morosi, which is his development of a two-seam fastball learned from fellow Mariners starter Robbie Ray in the middle of the season that has made him all that more difficult for hitters to figure out. And that’s a pretty impressive thing coming from a rookie.

“One thing I’ll say about him and his aptitude, I think, A, he’s in the zone all the time; and B, this new variation of the pitch that he picked up from Ray like a month ago, right? It’s like almost an unhittable pitch,” Morosi said. “And when you are confident enough (to develop a new pitch during the season), I think that’s one thing (you see as a) mark of the greats. Verlander has reimagined himself and (Clayton) Kershaw as well as as they go through their career – and certainly Kirby’s just starting his journey. But what I love about him is that I see in him an ability to adapt and add a new pitch, and he’s not afraid to try that new pitch and work on it.

“Obviously, he came in and got a measure of success (in the majors), he’s always been in the zone, and some guys are reluctant to tinker for fear of losing what they already have. And if there’s one thing that pitching has evolved to in recent years, if you just have that tunnel vision and you don’t adapt, you often lose something. For him to pick up something new that is now going to be in the back of every hitter’s mind the rest of the season I think is incredibly impressive.”

Who the Mariners have built their staff around

Sticking with Kirby and Gilbert, Morosi pointed to the fact that Seattle was able to add two ace-quality starters in Ray and Castillo without parting with their two most prized young pitchers.

“They had to give up some pitching, obviously some pieces to get to get Castillo,” Morosi said of their trade deadline deal with the Reds. “And I think you have to credit (general manager/president of baseball operations) Jerry Dipoto and (assistant GM) Justin Hollander and their staff for being discerning and disciplined where, yes, they do make a bunch of trades, but they didn’t trade Gilbert and they didn’t trade Kirby. … Knowing who to keep is one of the most important jobs of a GM. And while Jerry has certainly given up guys that have gone on and made a huge impact elsewhere, the guys that you look at and say these are the future cornerstones of the franchise, he did a pretty good job of keeping them.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Morosi at this link or in the podcast player located near the top of this post.

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