SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners’ Kirby shows ‘better understanding’ after critical comments

Sep 9, 2023, 2:33 PM

Seattle Mariners George Kirby...

George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners reacts on June 13, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Some young players kick Gatorade coolers, others vent to the media. Young frustration bubbled over for a young Seattle Mariners player once again Friday night in St. Petersburg in George Kirby’s comments to the media following the Mariners’ 7-4 loss.

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“I wish I wasn’t out there for the seventh (inning) to be honest ‘cuz I was at 90 pitches, I didn’t think I needed to go anymore,” said Kirby.

The comments perhaps more reflective of the everpresent pressure, self-imposed or otherwise, that a young player put on themselves than the usage.

Kirby not wanting the baseball? That wasn’t him. This is the pitcher Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais has acknowledged is the starter he least enjoys taking the ball from – just watch video from just about any of his outings and you will underhand why – and Friday night it was a statement that caught absolutely everyone by surprise. Even Kirby, who asked to talk to the media Saturday before the clubhouse opened.

“Obviously, I screwed up and, you know, that’s not, that’s not me,” he said. “And, (Servais has) always gotta pry that ball on my hands. Just super uncharacteristic of me as a player, and who I am out on that mound. I love competing.”

Kirby confirmed he was fine physically, that wasn’t an issue. What he was dealing with was the frustration of being in a very unfamiliar spot.

“That first inning was just weird,” he said. “I never walked two people in my life like that. But no, I beared down, got the rest of those innings done. And unfortunately, let up that home run at the end. I think there’s just a lot of frustration coming out. And clearly I wasn’t in the right state of mind when I came to talk to you guys last night. So it is what it is. I go live with it. And I’ll just move on.”

There is a little more to it than just moving on. Dealing with the pressures and frustrations is a big part of the job and to that end, Kirby is taking steps forward with the first step, talking with Servais last night.

“I talked to George last night after the other things went down. And George apologized,” said Servais. “He said, ‘Skip, that’s not who I am.’ We all know George is very fiery. He’s a hell of a competitor. And, you know, I was 25 at one point, and I probably said some things that I wish I could take back. He’s learning. And it’s an opportunity to learn moving forward.”

Multiple conversations took place Friday night and Saturday morning. Kirby talked with Seattle Mariners coaches, including mental skills coach Adam Bernero, who he has a close relationship with.

Kirby has always been fiery on the hill, something the Mariners don’t want to tamp down. It is part of who he is as a pitcher. This year, however, there have been times where it has gotten in his way. The conversations were ongoing even before Friday’s postgame comments. Stakes have been raised in Year 2 for Kirby, both by his job and the team’s expectations being higher and the almost impossibly high standard he sets for himself.

“I wear my emotions on my sleeve more than anyone else,” said Kirby. “I think it’s a blessing and a curse the same time, the high standards. I guess that has to do with that my job is once a week, and I like to go out and give my team the best chance to win every time. So when I don’t do my job, it definitely eats at me. I think it’s been eaten at me in the last month. And I’m realizing I’ve just got to do a better job of preparing and going each start with a better mindset.”

While Kirby has been putting in the work, sometimes the true awareness does not come until after an uncharacteristic event. In this case, it wasn’t just that Kirby vented to the media, it was what he said.

He didn’t want to be in a game? Servais believes this incident could lead to a turning point in finding a better balance.

“I think so. I think we all come to those moments where we as a young player, young person in your life, make a mistake,” said Servais. “I said it about Jarred Kelenic about seven weeks ago, when you make mistakes that only affect yourself, that’s not a big deal. Start affecting other people? That’s when you take notice. I think this is one George will learn from.”

The effect on the team this time is not quite the same as taking yourself out of seven weeks of competition, but nonetheless, obviously the timing for such a spotlight is not good. The comments themselves did not exactly reflect team awareness.

A team source indicated that beyond Servais and the coaches, there were players who addressed the situation with George and for George’s part he said that he would talk to his teammates.

“I’ll definitely address it,” he said. “I think that’s my duty to do that. And, you know, I believe they always have my back. And I trust them as well. So I think, you know, it’s important that I do to speak to them.”

That trust is critical.

It’s an uncomfortable situation but one the clubhouse can withstand. They are a team and they support each other. Kirby is hardly the first young player to make a mistake, and he has tackled it head on. For his sake, you hope he gets beyond this quickly. He has come up big for this team both this year and last. It is why he was on the hill in the seventh inning of Friday’s game, entrusted to get at least a couple more outs at the bottom of the lineup and perhaps keep the more trusted bullpen arms in line to preserve the win.

It was a shame he couldn’t realize that in the moment, or appreciate what he had done during the game in fighting back from a terrible first inning. Fourteen hours later, he seemed to have a better understanding.

“There were a lot of positives,” Kirby conceded. “Came back and limited my pitch count and got deep in the game. You know, it just didn’t go my way at the end. But yeah, just gonna learn from it all and take it to heart and just keep keep going.”

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