Drayer: Mariners’ Justus Sheffield may have just had fastball breakthrough

Mar 8, 2020, 5:44 PM
Mariners LHP Justus Sheffield...
Mariners pitcher Justus Sheffield had success Sunday using a two-seam fastball. (Getty)

In a classic case of a spring training box score not always telling the full story, the Mariners may have seen a very significant development on the field for Justus Sheffield on Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Drayer: Key part of M’s rebuild has already arrived in big leagues

The line for Sheffield against the Giants was three innings pitched, allowing one run on one hit with no walks and five strikeouts, and that looks decent enough. But when you factor that he introduced a new pitch into the equation, abandoning his four-seam fastball and going exclusively to the two-seamer? Well, that made for one very good day for Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth.

“It was awesome,” Woodworth said on the field after the game. “He just trusted something that he can do naturally. Him and Murph (catcher Tom Murphy) had full conviction in it and that was the best fastball and best fastball command I have seen him have.”

Woodworth was the pitching coach at Double-A Arkansas last year when Sheffield was sent there after struggling mightily in Triple-A, so there is a good amount of familiarity. There is also a good measure of trust. Shortly after Mariners spring training began, Woodworth and Murphy began talking about the possibility of getting Sheffield to go to the two-seamer.

“It’s one of those things where you kind of want to feed the beast,” said Murphy. “If a four-seamer isn’t necessarily at the upper echelon, then why push something that is not going to be a great pitch when you can make it a two-seamer and now all of a sudden that low spin rate plays to his advantage. It was phenomenal today.”

The move was a case of working better with what he had. Sheffield’s four-seam fastball had the third lowest spin rate in baseball last year and was hardly a weapon for him. While he would get movement on it, the movement was unpredictable. That was not the case with the two-seamer, according to Murphy.

“At times his four-seamer did whatever it wanted to do,” said Murphy. “Today’s movement was the same every single time. It was really, really good.”

Sheffield has been working on the pitch in bullpens for the last couple of weeks but Sunday was the first time he threw it in a game. He was all in, pushing the four-seamer to the side 100 percent in favor of his new pitch. The reward, immediate.

“I really liked it,” said Sheffield. “It helped me stay closed in my mechanics, just mentally thinking I had to stay closed to get that pitch sinking and moving. I’m a pitcher that if I fly open it’s not a good day. It keeps me on track, keeps me going.”

Sheffield indicated that the four-seamer could be shelved for awhile but hopes it’s a pitch he can go back to in time. For now, with the two-seamer it appears there are much better answers to some of the struggles he has had.

“We just kind of saw with the four-seam, he’s been working on it awhile,” Woodworth pointed out. “That’s what he has always thrown. But his other pitches are off his two-seam grip so they were kind of contrasting ideas. The first day he put the two-seam in his hand he said ‘This feels great.'”

The slider has been Sheffield’s No. 1 pitch and will remain so for the foreseeable future. With the addition of the two-seamer, however, he now has better weapons to attack right-handers with a change-up and two-seamer that break away and a slider that comes in. An added bonus, he’s managed to take a little off the change-up, giving him more separation with the fastball. The change-up that was thrown around 89-90 mph last season has been more 84-85 mph, which will play much better off his 92-93 fastball.

It was just his first outing with the change but the reviews were stellar. For his part, Sheffield said it is too soon to get too into the movement of the pitch. For now he is working day to day with it as he learns just what it will be. What it was on Sunday left all involved very pleased with the fact that he decided to commit to it and take it into a game.

“Honestly from pitch 1 today – meaning his bullpen – it was the best I have ever caught from Justus Sheffield,” said Murphy. “It was the most natural I’ve seen his fastball move. His four-seamer had this very low spin to begin with. … Him switching to the two-seamer, I think is going to benefit him in the long run and you saw that today.”

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

Read Shannon’s Get To Know Your Mariners series

• Patrick Wisdom has long history with Marco Gonzales
• Logan Gilbert’s swift rise up the ranks
• Dan Altavilla looking for healthy, productive 2020
• Cal Raleigh has been on the baseball path since Day 1
• OF Jake Fraley could be the gem of Zunino trade
• If anyone can relate to top Mariners prospects, it’s Taijuan Walker
• Julio Rodriguez looks the part of future superstar on and off the field

Date Starting Pitcher
Wednesday, September 28 @ 6:40 pm

Mariners Roof Report

Brought to you by
Chance Light Rain
High 68° | Low 55°
Roof is open
Rangers at Mariners today at 6:40pm

Shannon Drayer

Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: Is Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic finally letting the game come to him?

In four games back with the Mariners, Jarred Kelenic is showing positive adjustments and giving the M's a boost when they need it the most.
1 day ago
Mariners Dylan Moore...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: What happened on Mariners’ rough road trip, what’s next and injury updates

Mariners insider Shannon Drayer looks at the team's struggles on their recent road trip, looks ahead to their 10-game homestand, and provides injury updates.
2 days ago
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: Mariners again overcome adversity, must continue due to more challenges

The Mariners again overcame adversity on Thursday, winning as losses and injuries piled up. Shannon Drayer details the team going forward.
5 days ago
Mariners Eugenio Suárez...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: ‘Unreal’ Mariners comeback makes it clear they’re ready for big stage

The Mariners showed what they're made of Sunday, coming back after giving up five runs and the lead in the ninth inning to upset the defending champs.
16 days ago
Mariners Mitch Haniger...
Brent Stecker

Mitch Haniger ‘remarkable’ in Mariners return — will it lead to a deal?

"I think we might be seeing just absolute peak Mitch Haniger right now," Mariners insider Shannon Drayer said Monday on Seattle Sports.
1 month ago
Mariners Julio Rodriguez...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: Rodríguez’s deal with Mariners will help both sides for long time

The Mariners' deal with Julio Rodríguez does a lot for both sides, keeping Julio a Seattle ambassador and sending a message about the team.
1 month ago
Drayer: Mariners’ Justus Sheffield may have just had fastball breakthrough