Drayer: How Mariners pulling Gilbert points to bigger picture

May 26, 2024, 5:08 PM | Updated: 7:30 pm

Seattle Mariners Logan Gilbert Nationals 2024...

Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Nationals on May 25. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

(Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Seattle Mariners starter Logan Gilbert being pulled in a 1-1 game after throwing just 78 pitches on Saturday drew the ire of many on social media.

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From those in the press and broadcast booths, the immediate thoughts went to the reasons why. With the Mariners playing 30 games in 30 days and in the early part of 17 straight, workload management came to mind.

After the game, which Seattle lost 3-1 to the Washington Nationals, manager Scott Servais pointed to the temperature (89 degrees at game time with high humidity), the schedule, and the fact that Gilbert had to sprint off the mound multiple times to cover first base – one time falling to his knees to avoid a collision – all as reasons for the move.

Prior to Sunday’s series finale, Servais gave a closer look at why the move was made.

“It’s a number,” Servais said of the pitch count. “Not all pitches are created equal. And whether it’s stressful situations, it’s temperatures, it’s covering first base six times and falling down all over the place. There’s a lot (of factors) and they’re not all the same.”

To that end, every pitch and every situation is tracked, and not just for the current outing – the previous two or three are taken into account as well. During Saturday’s postgame show, former MLB pitcher and current Mariners analyst Ryan Rowland-Smith said with where the M’s are in their schedule and not having the extra days between starts they had back in April, his first thought when Servais went to the bullpen was to look at the big picture. The move was about the long-term, not the next three innings.

“The strength of our team is our starting pitching,” Servais said. “And if we’re sitting here in a good situation, a good spot, and you’re looking at August and September and they’ve got plenty left in the tank because we were very disciplined early in the season, you’re much more likely to let them run deep into games and whatnot.”

The Mariners’ starters ran a 4.47 ERA in September last year after posting a 3.47 ERA in July and 3.30 ERA in August, with Gilbert seeing his numbers tick up a full point in the final month. Gilbert is a pitcher they will want to be able to lean on down the stretch. To do that, they need to take care of him throughout the year.

One option would be to go to a six-man rotation from time to time, but that is something the Mariners are hesitant to do. Instead, they manage innings game to game, and going into this stretch, Servais pointed out we likely would see starters pulled earlier from time to time to get them the rest they are not getting due to the schedule. It is not just a feel thing. There is actual recovery science that comes into play with every pitch tracked and trainers monitoring recovery between starts.

“As far as tracking, you’re always looking in three-start increments,” Servais said. “If you do run him hot or you run him up close to or over 100 (pitches), you might pull back the next time. There’s a lot that plays into it. Just because it says on the board a number, that number is not equal. It’s not the same with all guys. And certainly it changes from outing to outing.”

Another factor that came into play Saturday was the state of the Mariners’ bullpen. With the bullpen having given up 20 runs in 23 2/3 innings on the road trip, it was best to not bring in a reliever with runners on base. Had Gilbert gone back out and allowed a runner or two to get on base, it would not be the best situation for the bullpen. Instead, reliever Gabe Speier came into a clean inning with two lefties and a switch-hitter due up.

“Our middle relief has struggled,” Servais said. “Our pivot guys have struggled a little bit to come in with inherited runners and get us out of jams, and so instead of putting those guys in those spots and going to the bullpen, well, yesterday we weren’t able to get it done.”

It wasn’t stated by anyone with the club, but it is possible there was other math in the equation. On Saturday, the Mariners would have needed to score at least one run in the final three innings to win the game, and very likely more. Having scored just two runs in their previous 25 innings, how likely was that to happen? Perhaps it was better to save the pitches and the up-down in the heat for Gilbert’s next start, which will be against the Houston Astros, who entered the day just 3.5 games behind Seattle in the AL West standings.

Regardless, the Mariners will continue to prioritize starter heath and productiveness over all else at this point of the season. There is plenty to keep in mind the next time the hook appears to come a little early.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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• Mariners get key reliever back from the injured list
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