BRANDON GUSTAFSON

What’s the next step for Seattle Mariners’ George Kirby in 2024?

Mar 29, 2024, 3:59 PM

Seattle Mariners George Kirby...

George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners reacts against the Houston Astros on Sept. 26, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

For the first time in 2024, it’s George Kirby Day for the Seattle Mariners.

Kirby, 26, makes his first start of the season against the Boston Red Sox on Friday night, and the M’s will look for him to help lift them to their first win of the year after falling 6-4 on opening day.

Seattle Mariners Highs and Lows: What stands out from opening day loss

“Guys are anxious to get back out here. We didn’t play our best game last night, we know it,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters Friday afternoon. “And that’s why we play 162 of these. So we’re gonna get George out on the mound tonight. Hopefully he’s a little bit more efficient with his pitches than Luis (Castillo) was last night and can get a little deeper in the game.”

Castillo allowed four runs in five innings of work on Thursday and took the loss. Castillo struggled to get ahead of Red Sox hitters and didn’t control the strike zone as well as he usually does.

That likely won’t be the case with Kirby on Friday, as the young right-hander has maybe the best command of any starting pitcher in baseball.

“He does a great job pounding the strike zone. That’s his identity,” Servais said. “Everybody knows you’ve gotta go up there ready to swing versus George and you’re gonna get strikes.”

Kirby was an All-Star in 2023, and there’s still plenty the third-year starter can do to continue his rise as one of MLB’s best pitchers. Servais was asked specifically about the next step for Kirby as he begins 2024.

“I think using (his strike throwing) to his advantage is the next step. And that’s when to expand the strike zone a little bit against certain hitters that will chase and when they get in that swing mode,” Servais said. “And he has to recognize that. He’s got a lot of weapons.”

Kirby is a five-pitch guy, using two fastballs, two breaking balls and a splitter to attack opposing hitters.

Servais doesn’t see Kirby getting a ton of chase off the inside or outside parts of the plate, but up or down and out of the zone is where he can thrive.

“Taking those pitches below the zone (is key). Guys don’t chase as much off the plate as they used to, but they will still chase north and south,” Servais said. “And he needs to continue to use that to his advantage.”

More Seattle Mariners Notes

• Seattle has been a very good defensive team in recent years, but the Mariners had some miscues there on Thursday.

Is the Seattle Mariners’ defense going to be a big concern this year?

Josh Rojas was charged with a throwing error – though Servais said that was a tough play – and Luis Urías made a mental mistake by not getting rid of a ball in time from third base and Dominic Canzone misjudged a play in the left field corner and didn’t get the ball back to the infield fast enough, resulting in a triple and an eventual run scored.

“We just didn’t make some plays we should make … It’s just more than the routine plays – not giving up the extra 90 feet and things like that,” Servais said. “… Our guys work very diligently on their defense and we know how important it is. (It’s) 27 outs, no more. And we gave them a couple extra last night.”

• Two hitters will get their first starts of the year on Friday in Luke Raley (left field and hitting eighth) and Urías (third base and hitting ninth). But both entered the game late off the bench on opening day.

“That’s how our roster is going to play out this year. You’re gonna see a number of guys. We will pinch hit,” Servais said. “… You’re going to see all these guys contribute and play. The sooner you can get them in a game, the better.”

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