Drayer: Mariners’ Logan Gilbert showcases new splitter in spring debut

Mar 2, 2023, 4:20 PM

Seattle Mariners Logan Gilbert...

Logan Gilbert pitches for the Mariners against the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 19, 2021. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Mariners starter Logan Gilbert made his spring debut in Thursday afternoon’s 5-4 win over San Diego against a Padres lineup that included the bulk of their star power, and it looked every bit a first outing as he walked the first batter he saw (Fernando Tatís Jr.), gave up hits to Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz (which truth be told perhaps could have been caught), and struggled a bit with his fastball command.

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In talking with Gilbert after his 1 2/3 innings on the mound, it appeared that the pitch clock was a distraction as he mentioned being conscious of where he was, how much time he had and the realization that he perhaps was rushing a little. In that regard it was very similar to Robbie Ray’s first outing this spring, with the good news being the first start with the pitch clock is behind them.

“I felt like at first I was trying to throw it at like 13 or 14 (seconds) just because the clock was in the back of my head,” Gilbert said, “so just getting familiar with it. I don’t think it’ll be a big deal but just trying to find the right balance.”

As for his new pitch, the split-finger fastball, Gilbert did throw five or six. The results were mixed.

“I threw a few,” he said. “That last one to Tatís (3-2 count for a strikeout) was a splitter and I threw a foul ball to (Padres prospect Jackson) Merrill. Couple of good ones at the end, the first couple out there in the first inning weren’t great.”

The not-great splitters flattened out, but the ones that moved did appear to have promise. It’s a pitch that Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said stood out in spring bullpens.

“It makes you say ‘wow’ when it comes out of his hand,” Hollander said. “The slot that he throws from, it just looks natural for him to throw that pitch. It’s a really exciting new offering.”

Gilbert concurred.

“I’ve always tried to throw a changeup and just kind of struggled with it. It just wasn’t natural for me,” Gilbert said. “So we just tried to find basically a variation, a splitter, that I can throw like a fastball and should be able to throw it to hopefully lefties and righties just as well.”

More work is needed as Thursday was the first time Gilbert threw the pitch to hitters in a game and just the third time overall he had thrown it to hitters at all. Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth said earlier this week – with the caveat that he had yet to see the pitch in games – that he believes that pitch has the potential to get a lot of strikeouts.

“He’s going to miss a ton of bats,” Woodworth said. “Right, left, he’s not going to have to rely on a breaking ball to get some swing and misses or lean on his fastball to punch guys out at the top. It’s another dimension. If you have to cover his fastball at the top, anything moving down that looks like that? That’s what it was built for. That’s the idea behind creating this pitch.”

Gilbert said he is still looking to find a bit more comfort with the splitter but feels the pitch is trending in the right direction.

“We just need to try to see opportunities to throw it and work on it,” he said. “See what it looks like right now. I think we’re ahead of counts and to lefties obviously is the best situation. Threw one to a righty (Tatís) at the end just to see what it’s like. But just seeing what it is really, trying to find out how I can use it.”

It will be interesting to see how this pitch continues to develop throughout the spring and if it turns into the weapon some believe it can. All in all, not a bad debut.

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