Mariners Breakdown: Pitching Ninja on ‘absolute legendary stretch’

May 1, 2024, 11:57 AM | Updated: 1:51 pm

The Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation has been the talk of baseball, and there maybe is no one happier about that than the “Pitching Ninja,” Rob Friedman.

Blowers on M’s recent pitching run: ‘Never seen anything like it’

Friedman runs the Pitching Ninja social media accounts that highlight the nastiest stuff on the mound in MLB, and Seattle’s hurlers have been featured regularly not just this season but going back to the early days of Friedman’s rise to viral prominence.

The Mariners’ starters have taken things to a new level early on this year, though. Entering Wednesday’s series finale against the Atlanta Braves, the American League West-leading M’s (17-13 record) had gone 18 straight games where their starting pitcher has allowed two earned runs or less. Over that stretch, the entire Seattle pitching staff posted a 1.61 ERA and 179 strikeouts to just 38 walks to help the M’s to a AL-best 13-5 record since April 10.

“They’ve always been appointment viewing for me, especially this year,” Friedman told Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy on Wednesday morning.

“What is it, 18 consecutive games started with two earned runs or fewer? Like, who does that? That’s all-time great stuff and I don’t think it’s a fluke. … We’re seeing legendary stuff right now. Absolute legendary stretch.”

Here’s a look at some of the things Pitching Ninja highlighted about the Mariners’ rotation.

Pitching Ninja breaks down Seattle Mariners’ rotation

• Friedman pointed out how Seattle’s starters work like a team even though only one of them gets to pitch on a given day.

“This is one of the unique rotations in that it’s almost like a pack-like mentality – I noticed that in spring training,” said Friedman, who spent time around the M’s staff in March at the team’s complex in Peoria, Ariz. “They all like each other, they learn from each other, they watch each other’s outings intently, but they’re all very different but pick up things from each other. I mean, (Luis) Castillo is very different from (Bryce) Miller in the way that they throw, but they support each other and can look for holes in swings and other stuff. But they also learn pitch grips from each other, too. I’ve noticed a lot of similarities, like folks picking up splitters from each other.”

• Who is Friedman’s favorite Mariners pitcher to watch? That’s pretty much impossible to answer.

“It depends on who’s pitching that day, honestly,” he said. “To me, George Kirby is an absolute freak in terms of command. I made the point of saying I don’t think there’s anybody in the history of baseball – and yes, I’m talking about Greg Maddux, too – that has better command than George Kirby. But then Logan Gilbert, I mean, that new splitter is absolutely amazing to me. How few rotations it gets on the way to the plate, it’s almost like a knuckleball, and he’s a competitor. Bryce Miller’s kind of chill, but not on the bump, and he just comes right at you. And Luis Castillo’s been one of my favorites for years. He used to be a changeup king, and now he’s a four-seam fastball king.”

• Perhaps the most impressive thing about the run the staff has been on is that No. 5 starter Emerson Hancock has stepped in for Bryan Woo, who is nearing his return from elbow inflammation that prevented him from starting the season on the roster.

Hancock hasn’t just been filling in, though. He’s been keeping us with the other four pitchers in the Mariners’ rotation.

“I thought he was holding a spot for Bryan Woo until Woo got back, and Woo’s been tearing it up in the minor leagues (on a rehab assignment). Like, we’re talking about this staff and we’re not talking about Bryan Woo, which is nuts,” Friedman said.

Based in Georgia, Friedman is familiar with Hancock because he’s a University of Georgia product. But even he is surprised with how well Hancock has taken to the Mariners’ pitching strategy.

“His fastball is playing way better than I thought it would. That’s the thing that’s jumped out at me is I thought he was struggling with his fastball for maybe his first start and I hadn’t seen anything spectacular from him. But I think the Mariners have a unique philosophy, they want your best stuff in the zone, fill it up and challenge everybody. And that’s why they have the (fewest) walks and the (third-most strikeouts).

“It’s crazy, the combination of command and stuff that we’re seeing. It’s not often that you see high strikeouts with very low walks, and that’s kind of the overall philosophy. I think it’s fed into what Hancock’s doing, which is pounding the zone with his fastball and letting it eat, and I think it’s helped with his confidence. Like, ‘Hey, we know you’re good enough, throw fastballs by people. You see these other guys do it, you do it too.'”

• How about some credit for the Seattle Mariners’ catcher? Friedman was sure to shout out Cal Raleigh for his work calling games.

“He is fantastic. To me, catchers are a huge part of having a great pitching staff, and he is fantastic in knowing their stuff,” Friedman said. “… He loves fastballs in general. He calls what he doesn’t feel like he can hit. So he’s watching Miller throw and he’s like, ‘Oh, heater again.’ He called 47 straight fastballs last year for Luis Castillo (in a win over the White Sox), and I asked him about it and he was like, ‘I just wanted to see how many he could throw in a row, so that’s what we’re going to do.’

“He’s very low key and very supportive of pitchers. Great confidence, smart dude, great personality. There’s like a little bit of a psychiatrist to get the most out of each pitcher, and he is fantastic at it.”

• Host Stacy Rost had a great question to end the conversation with Friedman: If he had to choose one pitch from any of the Mariners’ starters with Game 7 of the World Series on the line, what would it be?

His answer came out of left field.

George Kirby’s knuckleball. I tried to convince him to throw it more this year. Like, that was one of the nastiest pitches you’ll ever see, and it will surprise everybody, right?”

Hear the full Bump and Stacy conversation with Rob Friedman, aka Pitching Ninja, in the podcast at this link or in either of the video or audio players near the top of this post.

More on the Mariners

Walk-off HR a ‘huge relief’ for Seattle Mariners DH Mitch Garver
AL West Check-In: Angels star Mike Trout to have knee surgery
AL West Check-In: Astros sending down former MVP José Abreu
How Mariners could keep Emerson Hancock when Bryan Woo returns
Drayer: Why Seattle Mariners are sending Jonatan Clase back to Triple-A

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Mariners Breakdown: Pitching Ninja on ‘absolute legendary stretch’