BRANDON GUSTAFSON

The Good, Bad and Ugly from Mariners’ 2-5 homestand to start 2023

Apr 5, 2023, 5:19 PM | Updated: 5:33 pm

Seattle Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic of the Seattle Mariners reacts after striking out on March 31, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners entered the season with high hopes after their postseason run in 2022, but they ended their first homestand of the year with a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, falling to 2-5 to open 2023.

Mariners fall to Ohtani, Angels 4-3 to lose second straight series

Seattle won on opening day before losing the next four games, as well as on Wednesday, meaning the Mariners opened the year with back-to-back series losses.

There was obviously some good that came from the first seven games of the year, but with five losses in the books, there was some not so good as well. Let’s dive into what stands out so far.

The Good: Two starters step up in different ways

The Mariners got some strong starts over this homestand, and I want to specifically highlight two hurlers.

The first is obvious: Luis Castillo.

“La Piedra” or “The Rock” has been maybe MLB’s best starter thus far, allowing just three hits, two walks and no runs across 11 2/3 innings while striking out 12. That’s obviously a 0.00 ERA, but it’s also a microscopic 0.43 WHIP.

He started the year strong on opening day with six scoreless against the Cleveland Guardians, which was impressive in its own right, but his start on Tuesday was maybe more important.

Yes, the Mariners got an 11-run offensive outburst thanks to four home runs, but they needed a strong start from Castillo to snap a four-game losing streak. He gave them that and more, spinning 5 2/3 scoreless against the Angels.

“He’s a special pitcher, there’s no question about it,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Tuesday night. “… He loves to compete. He’s not afraid, he goes right after it. On any particular night, any one of his four pitches can be a dominant pitch. We’ve seen all of them work at different times and when he’s got two or three of them going one night, he’s really tough to hit. But it’s the demeanor, the mound presence that he brings out there. He’s a fun guy to watch pitch and our guys love playing behind him.”

While Castillo goes out there and overpowers guys, Chris Flexen is someone who pitches to contact and has to grind through his appearances.

Flexen started the year in the bullpen, where he pitched four innings of one-run ball against the Guardians last Friday, but with Robbie Ray now on the injured list with a forearm strain, he was thrust back into a starting role.

His outing on Wednesday got off to a rocky start as he walked two in the first inning and surrendered a two-run home run in the second, but he “did exactly what we needed him to,” Servais said, which was keep the M’s in the game and give them a chance to win.

Ultimately, Flexen finished his day with five innings of two-run ball, striking out four and walking just the two in the first inning. When he left the game, Seattle was down 2-1.

“He threw the ball just outstanding today,” Servais said on Wednesday. ” … Flex did a great job stepping up and we’re going to need to continue to get those type of outings from. Can’t say enough about what he did.”

Mariners general manager Justin Hollander told Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy this week that Ray’s injury is likely a six-week deal, meaning he probably won’t return until May. Until then, Seattle will roll with Flexen, who has certainly started the year on a high note despite his role changing almost immediately.

The Bad: Too many walks

The Mariners have preached a lot of things over the last few years, but No. 1 on that list is to control the zone. Offensively, that means hit strikes and take your walks. On the mound, it means attacking the zone to get outs and prevent free bases.

Seattle’s starting pitchers have done a solid job in that regard outside of Ray’s lone start, but the bullpen has been giving up too many free passes.

Through these seven games, Mariners relievers have thrown 28 2/3 innings and have walked 18 batters, which is 5.65 per nine innings pitched. Last year, M’s relievers walked less than three batters per nine, according to Fangraphs.

Now, not every walk is created equal as some are intentional and some didn’t hurt the Mariners, such as Matt Brash’s two walks to Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the sixth inning on Wednesday, but Seattle is a team predicated on strong pitching and defense that is complemented by timely hitting.

The latter has yet to really click, but the former is arguably more important given the makeup of this team.

The Ugly: Only four guys going at the plate

This category has admittedly improved over Seattle’s most recent two games, but the overall point is still the same when looking at the numbers.

The Mariners need more guys hitting right now.

The top four in Seattle’s Wednesday lineup – Julio Rodríguez, Ty France, Eugenio Suárez and Cal Raleigh – are doing nearly all the heavy lifting for the Mariners so far this season.

That quartet is hitting a combined .324 through seven games. Hey, that’s good!

But those four have 65.4% of the team’s hits while Seattle’s other nine hitters own a collective .138 batting average. That has improved since Monday’s loss (it was .090 through the first five games of the season), but for the Mariners to win these close games, they need more contributors.

Additionally, those four sluggers have driven in 63% of the M’s runs, and nine of the 10 RBIs the other nine hitters have combined for came during Tuesday’s win.

So yes, it’s great that four of the Mariners’ top stars are off to good starts and are leading the charge, but they could certainly use some help. That begins Friday evening with yet another series against the Guardians, this time in Cleveland.

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