Smoltz: What Mariners’ pitching staff can take from Braves’ ‘Big Three’

May 7, 2024, 1:09 PM | Updated: 1:17 pm

Seattle Mariners George Kirby Astros 2024...

George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Astros on May 3. (Jack Gorman/Getty Images)

(Jack Gorman/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners entered this season with a starting rotation that was already widely considered one of the best in baseball.

After a historic stretch over the past few weeks, the group has solidified its standing atop the league’s pitching hierarchy.

Mariners Breakdown: Pitching Ninja on ‘absolute legendary stretch’

Seattle starting pitchers allowed two earned runs or fewer in 21 consecutive starts from April 10 through May 4, which was tied for the second-longest such streak in MLB history and the longest since the 1915 Washington Senators.

One former pitcher who certainly knows a thing or two about being part of a dominant pitching staff is FOX MLB analyst John Smoltz, who teamed with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to form the Atlanta Braves’ famed “Big Three” in the 1990s. The Hall of Fame trio led Atlanta to a World Series title in 1995 and two more World Series appearances in 1996 and 1999. During a conversation with Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Monday, Smoltz discussed how the Mariners’ starters can use each other’s talent to bring out the best in one another.

“If personalities allow for this to happen, then it’s a great situation,” Smoltz said. “But if you want to be the dude, if you want to be the guy, it’s not going to work. Egos and all those things that are all prevalent in sports, they are a reality of what we deal with in every walk of life. You’ve got to be able to understand that you can learn from each other. There is that inner competition that wants to … continue to one-up the next person in a good way.”

The value of adding pitches

Over the past few years, Mariners starting pitchers have continued to add new pitches to their arsenal. George Kirby added a two-seam fastball midway through 2022 and a splitter in 2023. Logan Gilbert added a splitter in 2023 and a cutter this season. Bryce Miller also added a splitter this year.

Smoltz said the ability to add new pitches can be a game-changer.

“It took me three to four years to develop a secondary pitch other than my slider,” Smoltz said. “And one thing about sports, if you don’t evolve, if you stay in one spot, you’re going to get passed. … I couldn’t get left-handers out for the longest time and I developed a split. It changed my career (and) changed the trajectory of my pitching. I was able to win a Cy Young mainly because of that pitch. When you can add pitches and continuously get better, then the sky is the limit for you and your career.”

Smoltz said another key for pitchers – especially in this age of analytics and maximum velocity – is learning how to pitch effectively even without one’s best stuff.

“If you don’t have that ability or you don’t have the freedom for what I call feel and touch, and you’re just stuck in a computer, then you’re really only going to be as good as the day you have great stuff,” Smoltz said. “We have knowledge of things better than ever, but what we’re not teaching is the athleticism and the feel to adapt.

“These guys hopefully will be able to learn that they can pitch without their best stuff – that they can dominate in a different way,” he added. “And by doing that, they’re going to be a generational type of staff for however long they have together.”

Listen to the full conversation with John Smoltz from Monday’s Brock and Salk in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post. Tune in to Brock and Salk weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• What Huard would rather Mariners do before a Pete Alonso trade
• MLB Insider: Mariners’ Logan Gilbert on track to win a Cy Young
• How Mariners’ Cal Raleigh impresses former MLB catcher
• Drayer: Mariners’ 3B platoon has taken off, and earned more action
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Smoltz: What Mariners’ pitching staff can take from Braves’ ‘Big Three’