JOE FANN

Fann: Bryce Miller debut allows Mariners a temporary sigh of relief

May 3, 2023, 11:38 AM | Updated: 11:40 am

Seattle Mariners Bryce Miller...

Mariners pitchers Bryce Miller throws against the A's on May 2, 2023. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are desperate for another reliable starting pitcher following Robbie Ray’s season-ending flexor tendon injury and Chris Flexen’s atrocious start to 2023 (8.10 ERA through six appearances, including four starts).

Bob’s Seattle Mariners Breakdown: Making sense of tough first month

After Easton McGee landed on the injured list following just one start – in which he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings and didn’t allow a hit until his final batter – Seattle turned to top pitching prospect Bryce Miller. His highly-anticipated MLB debut on Tuesday against the Athletics likely came sooner than Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto had planned. Miller was expected to be a midseason call-up as potentially a power relief arm a la Matt Brash in 2022.

Miller hadn’t been stellar to open the year with Double-A Arkansas, either, with a robust 6.41 ERA and 1.32 WHIP through four starts, though he did throw five innings of one-run, one-hit ball on April 25 in his last start with the Travelers. Necessity often trumps desired timelines, and now Seattle is banking on Miller stabilizing the void in the rotation.

MLB’s 88th overall prospect twirled an absolute masterpiece in his MLB debut with six innings of one run ball against Oakland while striking out 10. Miller set a new franchise record for strikeouts in an M’s debut while becoming the seventh pitcher since 1961 to log at least five perfect innings in his first big league start.

Miller’s dominance allows Seattle’s front office to breathe a temporary sigh of relief given the team’s next option would probably be trading for a veteran starter. Miller provides the highest ceiling given his dominant fastball that sits in the upper-90s while keeping the rest of the farm system intact.

Drayer: How prospect Bryce Miller fits into Seattle Mariners’ rotation plans

The Mariners faced a similar scenario last season when Brash sputtered out of the gate as the team’s No. 5 starter, and Seattle immediately turned to George Kirby.

Kirby enjoyed tremendous success as a rookie with a 3.39 ERA in 25 starts. He tossed a scoreless ninth inning in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series to earn a series-clinching save and dispatch the Blue Jays. Kirby also mowed through the Astros lineup for seven scoreless innings while striking out five in Game 3 of the ALDS. Kirby was unfazed by the raucous atmosphere at T-Mobile Park for the franchise’s first home playoff game in more than two decades in a start that cemented him as one of the game’s flourishing young arms.

Seattle is obviously hoping for Miller story to play out in similar fashion. And while Miller has struggled a bit for the Travelers this season, it’s relevant to note that he comes to the big leagues with more minor league seasoning than Kirby had. Miller has pitched a collective 162 2/3 innings in the minor leagues where Kirby was promoted to the show with just 117 1/3 innings under his belt.

There are two more obvious caveats to add. The first is that the Athletics are hardly a big league lineup and seem determined on losing as many games as possible prior to moving to Las Vegas. Miller’s second start on Sunday against the Astros will be much tougher. (That’s not to say he isn’t capable of replicating Tuesday’s outing.)

The second is that unless Seattle’s bats wake up, the overall state of the pitching staff becomes moot. The Mariners were getting no-hit into the eighth inning on Tuesday, and the top of the order has gone into a near-comprehensive slumber. Julio Rodríguez is dealing with lower back soreness and the combination of Ty France and Eugenio Suárez are giving Seattle next to nothing production wise. It’s paramount that those guys regain form.

The next two games against the A’s should provide a continued opportunity to right the ship heading into a pair of pivotal home series against the Astros (16-14) and AL West-leading Rangers (18-11).

ESPN’s Passan: Mariners ‘in for a long season’ if Julio stays at this pace

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