ESPN’s Jeff Passan weighs in on what Mariners’ George Kirby said

Sep 12, 2023, 4:06 PM

Seattle Mariners George Kirby...

George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners looks on during a game against the Yankees on May 31, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher George Kirby found himself in hot water over the weekend after making pointed postgame comments to the media about his usage in a 7-4 loss Friday to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Start times for two Mariners playoff chase games changed

Kirby came back out to pitch the seventh inning after already having thrown 94 pitches. Though he recorded an out to begin the frame, he then allowed a double to José Siri and a home run to René Pinto, where his day ended at 6 1/3 innings and 102 pitches, with four runs allowed on five hits. He also walked two batters and hit another, all in the first inning, which was surprising for the 2023 All-Star known for stellar command.

After the game, he expressed frustration with being asked to continue pitching after the sixth inning.

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

That led to a backlash on social media, most notably with some retired MLB pitchers including Roger Clemens and Jered Weaver.

Kirby spoke with the media again before the Mariners’ game Saturday to share that he had apologized to manager Scott Servais and say that his comments from the day before were “uncharacteristic.”

More: Mariners’ George Kirby shows ‘better understanding’ after critical comments

“Obviously, I screwed up and, you know, that’s not me,” he said. “(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. … 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’ll go live with it, and I’ll just move on.”

So what’s to make of all of this? ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk for his weekly conversation Tuesday, and he has a particularly educated view on it due to the fact that he wrote the 2017 book, “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports,” about the toll that pitching takes on MLB pitchers.

How does Passan view Kirby’s comments? Here’s what he said:

It was dumb. I also don’t think that it’s particularly indicative of how George Kirby actually goes about his business. Like, that’s the thing: if George Kirby wasn’t the guy who has gone deep into games in the past, I would be like, ‘OK, this guy is just soft.’ But he’s not. He’s somebody who went out there and threw, like, (seven) innings in a playoff game, right? I mean, he’s somebody who’s gone out there and I think actually prides himself on going deep, and that day (he) didn’t have it toward the end, and that’s going to happen and he talked about it.

I never am going to criticize an athlete for being honest because that’s what we look for, but there are consequences to honestly sometimes. I think George Kirby’s reputation did take a hit, (but) I don’t look at him any differently/ I don’t look at him as someone who doesn’t want to be out there, but at the same time this is something that over time he will certainly recover from because I think he is going to be someone who’s throwing 100, 110, 120 pitches in important games.

Co-host Brock Huard then had an interesting follow-up question for Passan.

“How many young pitchers in 2023 have those thoughts rambling in their skull versus young pitchers in 2003 with that same thought?” Huard posed. “And I ask that because of your book. I ask that because these young guys know that this thing hanging to my shoulder here is a ticking time bomb, and what I’m doing with it today versus what they did with it in ’83 and ’93 and in ’03 is different, and I’ve got to look out for this thing that’s making my living.”

Passan’s response:

It’s an interesting question. I think it’s kind of an important question to ask because it gets to, how are pitchers being reared? What are teams doing in order to prepare pitchers to go deep into games? And in some cases, the answer is nothing or not enough. I look at a guy like Kirby who’s averaging more than six innings a start this season, and to me when a guy’s averaging more than six innings a start, that’s actually someone who’s doing it right. When you look at George Kirby’s game log, you see (nine shutout innings on Aug. 12 against Baltimore) in there.

He’s consistently in games, but (the Mariners) don’t throw him a lot of pitches. And I think that’s on the organization, right? I’m not suggesting that they should have or they could have – there’s a very good chance that the organization sees something in George Kirby’s stuff where at the 100 or so pitch mark it drops, because this is not a guy who’s thrown more than 103 pitches (in a game) this year. The game in question there (against the Rays) was the second-most pitches he’d thrown all season, and it was only 102.

To wrap up the discussion on Kirby, Passan added one thing that could determine the ceiling for young All-Star.

In George Kirby’s case, I think we look at his pitch counts, and that that to me is going to be the sign of George Kirby’s next evolution. When can he consistently go – or can he consistently go – 110 pitches as opposed to 100?

ESPN’s Jeff Passan joins Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk at 8:30 a.m. every Tuesday during the MLB season. Listen to this week’s full conversation in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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ESPN’s Jeff Passan weighs in on what Mariners’ George Kirby said