Close look: 3 players who have helped Mariners get into a groove

May 8, 2023, 1:24 PM | Updated: 1:32 pm

Seattle Mariners J.P. Crawford...

Mariners SS J.P. Crawford reacts after his double on May 6, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The vibe around the Seattle Mariners is much more upbeat going into this week than just about any other so far this young 2023 season.

Sunday: Seattle Mariners dispatch Astros as Julio, Miller lead in 3-1 win

The M’s are back at .500 after taking two of three from the defending World Series champion Houston Astros over the weekend, and with a 17-17 record thanks to six wins in their last seven games, they’re just 3 1/2 games back of AL West-leading Texas with those same Rangers coming into town for a big three-game set.

It seems that the Mariners have their groove back, as they’re pulling off comebacks and emerging victorious in close games, things that were trademarks over their previous two 90-win seasons but eluded them in April. There are three players in particular you could point to who have played big roles in helping the team find that groove, as Mariners insider Shannon Drayer of Seattle Sports detailed Monday morning when she joined Brock and Salk.

Let’s take a look at what Shannon had to say about J.P. Crawford, José Caballero and Bryce Miller.

The Seattle Mariners’ leader: J.P. Crawford

Crawford had the biggest hit of the weekend for the Mariners because it made their series win over the Astros possible. With the bases loaded and Seattle trailing Houston 3-0 in the eighth inning Saturday, Crawford worked the count to 3-1, then drove a ball into the gap for a three-run double, tying the game and providing the biggest spark in an improbable seven-run rally that began with two outs and nobody on.

“You know, he’s really something,” Drayer said. “You’ve heard (Mariners manager) Scott Servais talk about it, you’ve heard (Mariners president of baseball operations) Jerry Dipoto talk about it – you hear why they put so much faith into him and so much stock into what he does, and I think you do see it in moments like that.”

What stands out to Drayer is how emotional Crawford can get while at the same time keeping calm in big moments. She talked about how the 28-year-old shortstop uses that ability to go back and forth to lead the team.

“Everybody was talking about how fired up he was at second base and when he came into the dugout (during a pitching change after his double) and everything else,” she said. “What you don’t know is before games, that’s what he’s doing – he’s the guy that’s getting all these guys hyped up. Right before they go onto the field, he’s got a little thing that he does with the entire team, gets them going. When they come back in, you hear about the beer showers, he’s the voice that we can hear from the media room the entire time. But what’s remarkable about him is he probably also has the best heartbeat in terms of being able to slow things down in the game. That whole stadium was chanting ‘J.P., J.P.’ when he stepped up to the plate on Saturday, and how you slow that down, I don’t know, but he can do that.”

When the game was over, Crawford switched yet again to cool.

“By the time he comes up for the (postgame) interview, it looks like he just woke up from a nap. He could not be more calm, more collected. He just really has an ability to stay in the moment, whatever that moment is… and I think that you see it with teammates, too. … I mean, he is really I think kind of the master at controlling the emotions out there.”

The savvy rookie: José Caballero

Crawford wasn’t the only player with a big double in that eighth inning on Saturday night. Two batters later was Caballero, a 26-year-old rookie playing in just his 12th MLB game, and he in fact was only in the lineup because second baseman Kolten Wong had injured his wrist earlier in the contest. Caballero jumped on a 99 mph fastball from Astros reliever Ryne Stanek for a two-run double, putting the M’s ahead for good.

Oddly enough, that might not have even been the most memorable part of the series for Caballero. On Sunday, he jawed with veteran Astros catcher Martín Maldonado at the plate during a plate appearance over a disagreement relating to how Caballero was using the pitch clock (read this story for the full details), which resulted in both benches clearing.

“I couldn’t believe he turned around and talked to Maldonado,” Drayer said. “For a rookie to do that, that was something. And it was great to see Taylor Trammell and Julio Rodríguez right there when things started to go. … It was a savviness that he wasn’t going to put up with it. There was a little bit of back and forth going on there, and that was kind of (something) we were wondering about – can you use (the pitch clock as a hitter) to your advantage at all? Caballero was kind of timing up when he was giving his attention to the pitcher, and then not having it when the pitcher was trying to go before he was ready. That was almost a Kyle Seager ‘I’m ready’-type moment right there under the new rules, if you remember what I’m talking about. That was completely in the rookie’s control, which was impressive.”

Caballero, whose last name translates to “Spanish gentleman,” has quickly become a fan favorite, seemingly coming out of nowhere as an April call-up and playing surprisingly well whenever given an opportunity. Entering Monday, he has a .273/.324/.364 slash line for a .688 OPS with three doubles, two stolen bases and four RBIs in 13 games.

“He is a little bit of an older rookie, which I think has something to do with it,” Drayer said of Caballero’s confidence. “He’s had some injuries that kind of claimed some seasons, he was part of that lost season in the minors due to COVID and wasn’t able to play at all in 2020. So I think there is a little bit of extra hunger there because he should have been (in the majors) probably two years before. But what comes with that is a maturity, what comes with that is confidence – and he has a lot of confidence but he is much more, as his name would say, gentlemanly. You sit him down, have a conversation with him, couldn’t be more pleasant. It was a really enjoyable first interview that I did with him. A lot of smiles, kind of soft-spoken, but he’s kind of letting his baseball doing the talking.

“You saw he was making good contact with the baseball, which was a bit of a surprise, wasn’t getting the results earlier, but he had that hard contact. You started to see what the coaches were talking about with him. He’s got the confidence of his teammates right now, which is huge, and probably even more so after what he did yesterday.”

The unique arm: Bryce Miller

Lastly, there’s the newest Seattle Mariners starting pitcher, Bryce Miller, who followed a record-setting MLB debut in Oakland last week by throwing six scoreless innings against the Astros on Sunday, striking out five while allowing just two hits and one walk.

The 24-year-old Miller relies heavily on a fastball that features an elite amount of spin rate, and his confidence in his stuff shines through like it has for some other young M’s pitchers.

“In spring training last year when we were trying to figure out who’s gonna make the team – was it gonna be George Kirby or was it going to be Matt Brash? They both had that kind of confidence,” Drayer said. “We’d talk to them after their outings and they weren’t shocked by anything. ‘Well, I made my pitch. Sometimes it’s gonna get hit but that was a great pitch right there. If I do know what I need to do, I can get big leaguers out. And more importantly, if I do what I know I can do, I can get big leaguers out.’ And Bryce Miller’s got that confidence, as well. To him, it’s just ‘I’ve got stuff. Don’t worry about it.'”

Mariners’ Dipoto: What Bryce Miller has that makes him special

Drayer added that Miller has a different kind of composure that so far has prevented him from looking like a rookie on the mound.

“He’s pretty unique. He’s one of those guys that you talk about, ‘Well, they don’t even know where they’re at right now.’ Now, he does know where he’s at, there’s no question about that. He’s just not intimidated by it, and he’s going to be himself. And why wouldn’t you? That’s what got him here.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with Drayer in the podcast below.

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