Three Things Overheard in the Mariners’ Clubhouse: Pitching, J-Rod and Confidence

The Seattle Mariners have clawed their way back to .500 for the first time since their season-opening homestand.

Jorge Polanco #7, J.P. Crawford #3 and Julio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners celebrate after a game against the Chicago Cubs at T-Mobile Park.
SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 12: (L-R) Jorge Polanco #7, J.P. Crawford #3 and Julio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners celebrate after a game against the Chicago Cubs at T-Mobile Park on April 12, 2024 in Seattle, Washington. The Mariners won 4-2. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

DENVER, Colo. – After losing the first two games of their series with the Blue Jays in Toronto, the Seattle Mariners dropped to 4-8 on April 9, tied for second-worst in the American League.

Then, they started pitching. And they haven’t stopped since.

“That’s who we are,” manager Scott Servais said on Sunday. “We have outstanding pitching.”

Seattle has won seven of its last 10 games, taking two consecutive series in the process. At 11-11 following the club’s second visit to Denver in five years, the Mariners have clawed back to .500 for the first time since their opening homestand.

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During that stretch, Mariners pitchers have posted a 1.58 ERA. That that figure went down at Coors Field — of all places — further highlights how much the staff is clicking right now.

“I really credit our guys. It starts with the starting pitcher,” Servais said following Saturday’s 7-0 win. “(Luis Castillo) had one thing in mind: he’s going to win the game last night. He’s tired of being 0-and-4 to start the season. So he went out and set the tone, and I think that led the rest of our team.”

Despite a first pitch temperature of 33 degrees, the sixth-lowest in history for a game in Colorado, Castillo spun seven scoreless innings in the wintry conditions. The Rockies managed two hits. The first didn’t come until the fourth inning. The second was a routine popup with an expected batting average of .000 that Ty France lost in the snow.

That wouldn’t be the last weird moment of the weekend.

George Kirby started the first game of a doubleheader on Sunday after Friday’s game was canceled due to inclement weather. He didn’t feel great after warming up in the bullpen, but he persevered. 

“I don’t like to tell myself that I’m not feeling good,” Kirby said during the post-game scrum. “I know the velo wasn’t there, but I can still pitch really well at any speed. So, I’ve just got to do a really good job and execute, just bear down and compete.”

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Kirby still managed five scoreless frames despite allowing a base hit in each inning. It was his second strong start in a row following six innings of two-run ball against the Cincinnati Reds last Monday. 

He left the game with the score knotted at 0-0, his third start without any run support. It stayed that way until the 10th inning, marking only the third occurrence of a scoreless game after nine innings in the 2,437 games played in Colorado. 

Seattle eventually scored in the top of the 10th thanks to a J.P. Crawford RBI single, but the Rockies went on to win with three consecutive singles off Andrés Muñoz.

Emerson Hancock started the nightcap and allowed just one run over six innings of work to finish off an impressive weekend of pitching for the M’s. 

“Long day of baseball. Really great pitching all day, and after a tough loss in the first game, we needed Hancock to go out there and do just what he did,” Servais said of his 24-year-old starter.

J-Rod Resurgence

As much as the pitching will be critical for the Mariners’ success this season, so too will be the dominance of their young center fielder. When the team struggled early on, Julio Rodríguez struggled even more.

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Rodríguez finished April 13 batting just .186 with a .441 OPS and only one multi-hit game. He was not in the starting lineup the next game, his first day off this season.

When the Mariners had a baserunner with two outs in the ninth of a one-run ballgame, Servais went to his speedy center fielder as a pinch runner. After the second pitch to batter Luke Raley, Rodríguez was picked off to end the game.

The 23-year-old was back in the starting lineup the next day in Cincinnati, and he’s been hitting ever since. In recapping the Rockies series, Servais was understated when he said, “Julio has been on a roll.”

Since the pickoff play, Rodríguez has a six-game hitting streak, not to mention a five-game streak of multi-hit performances. Though he was confined to singles at Coors Field, he finished the week batting .464 with a 1.019 OPS.

Confidence Boosted

Throughout the clubhouse this weekend was a certain level of confidence the team hadn’t exactly shown on the field during the first two weeks of the season.

Players complimented one another and were eager to credit the club’s success to their teammates.

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Cal Raleigh said the team was focusing on cutting down strikeouts, not chasing and making the pitcher come to them. It showed on Saturday night, with only three strikeouts in the box score. 

“The last four or five games we’ve played, we’ve gotten pitch counts up very early on starters,” Servais said. “We’ve gotten in the bullpen early and we’ve taken our walks which has helped us. It’s just the quality of the at-bat has risen… (Saturday) night was our most efficient game, but we’re trending in the right direction.”

That strategy nearly worked to perfection against Cal Quantrill who was suffering from a bug that had plagued several Rockies over the past week. While vomiting between innings, Quantrill took 108 pitches to complete his six innings of work. It was only the second time since the start of 2019 that a Colorado starter had thrown that many pitches.

Even following the loss on Sunday afternoon, Servais looked undeterred when discussing the evening’s contest.

“We have it in us and we’ll get it here in the nightcap,” he said. “When you have that much traffic and you look up and you feel like we should be up in the game — four or five runs — and we’re not. They also had traffic and they weren’t able to push them across, so it’s just one of those crazy games.”

In addition to the scoreless affair after nine innings, there was also the matter of the fan interference that may have prevented Jacob Stallings from hitting a walk-off home run, depending on who you ask:

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Dylan Moore, who had already made a pair of great defensive plays at second base, went up for the fly ball in left field and seemed to come up short on the robbery. When the play was reviewed, Stallings was ruled out because of fan interference, pushing the game to extras.

M’s Gems

  • Following Friday’s cancelation, Servais didn’t want to push his rotation back a day. Instead, Castillo and Kirby started as scheduled and Hancock moved from Friday night to Sunday night. The Mariners’ top two starters stayed on schedule, so Castillo will be able to return on Thursday against their divisional foe, the Texas Rangers. 
  • Despite having to play 27 innings in a little over 24 hours, Seattle needed its bullpen for just nine frames. One of those was tossed by Cody Bolton, who came off the injured list (kidney stones) and served as a 27th man for Sunday’s twin bill. 
  • Raleigh put the icing on the cake by extending the Mariners’ lead to 9-2 in the sixth inning of game two with his fifth home run of the season. The 425-foot blast was the 7,500th home run in franchise history.
  • Crawford, who entered the series with only two extra-base hits, managed a bases-clearing triple during a five-run second inning in game two. When asked about hitting a baseball 426 feet and it still not clearing the fence, Crawford said, “That’s about how my life is going right now.”
  • Luis Urías exited the second game early after taking a 93.7-mph pitch off the hand. “It’s a contusion,” Servais said. “He got smoked pretty good. Day off tomorrow. I think it’ll be okay. In Texas, we’ll take a look and see where it goes.”