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SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Notebook: Opening day starter set, plus a pitch clock wrinkle

Mar 18, 2024, 2:03 PM

Seattle Mariners Luis Castillo...

Luis Castillo of the Seattle Mariners reacts during a 2023 game against Texas. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The suspense, if there was any, about who will be the Seattle Mariners’ opening day starter was put to an end Monday by manager Scott Servais.

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“The Opening Day starter for the 2024 Seattle Mariners will be” – (dramatic pause) – “Luis Castillo,” Servais told the assembled media after his daily session.

It will be Castillo’s fourth opening day start, having been on the mound for the Mariners’ first game in 2023, and then the Reds’ openers in ’21 and ’19.

Castillo, who finished fifth in American League Cy Young Award voting last year, has had a strong camp. And most notably, unlike last year, he has had his velocity from Game 1, firing 96 mph fastballs in the first inning. In previous years he has listed his goals for the season as being on the mound opening day, earning a selection to the All-Star Game and winning the Cy Young. He can cross No. 1 off his list for this year.

When the season starts, the Mariners are expected to stay in the rotation they have run all spring with George Kirby, Logan Gilbert and Bryce Miller to follow Castillo in the four-game opening series against the Red Sox, and Bryan Woo then to start the following Monday, April 1 against the Guardians.

Seattle Mariners’ find wrinkle with pitch clock

Earlier this camp, Bryce Miller talked about an episode where he was forced to throw the next pitch called for because he had shook off multiple pitches before and the pitch clock was running down. The pitch the newer catcher called for him, a curveball, is one seldom used by Miller.

That baseball ended up in the seats, and to be fair, Miller said he should have bounced the pitch, but the situation was one we really hadn’t seen before. It was easy to write it off to the inexperience of the catcher with Miller, but on Sunday, Logan Gilbert noted he had run into a similar situation in his start, and that was with Cal Raleigh, who has caught him since the minors. How did this happen?

Well, Gilbert has been throwing two new pitches this spring, bringing his total repertoire of pitches to six. And with the addition of the splitter, Miller is now throwing at least seven different pitches. See where they can run into trouble?

“The pitch clock does play into that and it gets a little bit more challenging when you have more pitches,” Servais said. “I would highly recommend our pitchers stick with our catcher as much as possible.”

One solution he would rather not see is a starter electing to call his own pitches over Pitchcom like the Padres’ Yu Darvish and a handful of other veteran starters do.

“I certainly understand it, but our guys are relatively pretty young and I cannot see ‘The Rock’ (Castillo) doing that. Rock just likes to ‘give me the ball and I’m going to pitch,'” Servais said.

In reality, once the regular season starts it shouldn’t be much of a problem. The catchers know their pitchers and there is a sitdown game-plan meeting before every game, so the battery should be on the same page at least to start the game.

“Everybody has toys and new things they want to try out in spring training when the lights come on and it really matters, and I’m sure we won’t have an issue with that, but it could come up,” said Servais, who had an 11-year MLB career as a backstop. “But as a catcher, when you put down a sign and he shakes you off, you actually have a really good idea what he wants, what he’s thinking. It’s when they have to shake twice, guy gets a little bit clogged up at times.”

Notes

• The Mariners had Miller pitch a sim game on Field 2 in Peoria on Monday rather than start against the AL West rival Texas Rangers in Goodyear. Earlier in the morning, Miller asked Ty France to hit off him in the “game,” and France obliged. In his first at-bat, France connected with a nasty slider that just got through the infield. In his second, Miller hit France with a splitter. No damage was done as France was able to turn and take the ball off his back shoulder. As for the hit, if Miller felt bad about giving up the hit on his slider, maybe he shouldn’t. France said he forgot to tell him his hitting group worked on nothing but hitting right-handed sliders right before the sim game.

• Cole Tucker is no longer in the organization. The infielder was on a minor league contract and left after being re-assinged to minor league camp March 13. The Mariners thought highly of Tucker, who was popular with teammates and coaches alike, and wanted to give him time to find a spot with another organization if he so chose. In confirming Tucker was no longer with the organization, Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said he would be thrilled to have him back someday in a non-playing capacity.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners Notebook: Checking in on the pitchers
Drayer: How Servais’ Mariners view start of season differently
Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez details his offseason meeting with Servais
J.P. Crawford: Trade to Mariners ‘saved my career, saved my life’
Drayer: Why two young Seattle Mariners prospects are of particular interest

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