SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
Seattle entered this season looking for this to be the year they come out on the other side of their rebuild with some of their young talent coming up to the majors, but they’ve stumbled a bit out of the gates.
Down-ish. The Mariners hit a major roadblock in late April extending into early May when they lost 10 of 11 games, but they’ve more or less evened things out since then. That said, even since that streak they’ve lost two of their last three series including dropping two of three to the Blue Jays this week.
5/19: Rich Hill vs. George Kirby, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)
While Hill got off to a little bit of a slow start to this season, allowing seven runs across his first two starts, which covered only nine innings, he has been one of the hottest pitchers on the staff since then. The veteran didn’t allow a run for three straight outings following his blow up on Patriots Day, and while he allowed a couple runs his last time out he also went six full innings, which is a big deal for him. He’s not missing as many bats as he has in the past, which isn’t surprising given the age, but he’s been showing off mostly very good command, and as long as he’s locating his fastball well it should set things up for his curveball to do the dirty work.
In Kirby the Mariners have one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, and he’s made just two career starts thus far. They’ve gone quite well, with the young righty allowing just one run over 10 innings of work, striking out eight and walking only one. That said, seven of those eight strikeouts came in his first outing against the Rays, as he only struck out one last time out against the Mets. In the minors, the former first round pick showed what you want to see from a top pitching prospect, racking up strikeouts while limiting the free passes. While he never spent much time at any one spot, he only had one stint anywhere with a FIP over 3.00, and that was in Double-A this year with a 3.62 FIP. Kirby has a big-time fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s, and also throws a slider and a changeup along with the occasional curveball.
5/20: TBD vs. Robbie Ray, 7:10 PM ET
Officially this one is listed as a TBD for the Red Sox, but barring any surprising setbacks we know it’s going to be Michael Wacha making his return from the injured list. This is the first day the righty is eligible to return after being shelved with an intercostal issue earlier this month. Prior to the injury, Wacha was one of the rare positive surprises for this team, leaning on a devastating changeup to induce all kinds of weak contact and pitch to a 1.38 ERA despite peripherals that were more fine than great. It’s been a bit since his last start on May 3, so there’s always a valid question as to how much of that momentum can still carry over.
Ray was one of the top free agents on the market last winter after winning the Cy Young with Toronto, and Seattle made their big splash to bring him in and head up their rotation. The southpaw hasn’t quite lived up to that ace billing so far this year, sitting with a 4.62 ERA and a 4.14 FIP. His strikeout rate is down to 25 percent, which would be his lowest since 2015, while his walk rate is up to nine percent after finishing at a career-low 6.7 percent a year ago. While Ray did strike out nine in his last start, he also gave up five runs to the Mets and has allowed a homer in three straight starts. He’s mainly a two-pitch pitcher, leaning heavily on his fastball and slider. So if one of them is off, it could be a good night for an improving Red Sox offense.
5/21: Garrett Whitlock vs. Chris Flexen, 4:10 PM ET
Alex Cora indicated earlier this week that Whitlock will indeed be sticking in the rotation for the foreseeable future, not committing to the whole season but shutting the door on any immediate return to the bullpen. The young righty has certainly earned this chance with a 3.15 ERA since joining the rotation. On the other hand, he does look a bit like a different pitcher in this role. That’s obviously to be expected, but he has had to work around some more command issues than we’re used to seeing from him, though to his credit he’s mostly done just that. They’ve mentioned it on the NESN broadcast a few times, but I’m interested to see what his pace looks like. He’s been slowing things down since starting, and it’d be nice to see that picked up to some extent moving forward.
Flexen is a major-league veteran who the Mariners picked up prior to last season after the righty spent a year rebuilding his value in the KBO. He’s not going to miss a whole lot of bats, striking out roughly 17 percent of batters over the last two seasons, but he also doesn’t let many batters on for free. The key for him is going to be the kind of contact he allows. Last season it was a lot of weak contact, which led to a solid 3.61 ERA. This season, it’s up to 4.35 with the homer increase to go alongside. He’s only had one truly bad start this year, but the Red Sox should look to jump on some hittable pitches while also not letting him get ahead and use some of his offspeed stuff. Flexen sits in the low-90s with his fastball while also incorporating a cutter and changeup along with the occasional curveball.
5/22: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Logan Gilbert, 1:35 PM ET
Talk about needing a bounce-back outing. Eovaldi has been having some major home run issues all season, but they came in bunches on Tuesday night when he allowed five home runs in the second inning, tying a major-league record for the most allowed by a single pitcher in a single inning. Despite the homers, though, that was his one truly bad outing of the season. As the team’s ace, he needs to find a way to get things back on track and keep putting up the strikeout and walk numbers while also avoiding the middle of the zone. It’s been easier said than done this year.
Gilbert is another one of the top young pitchers in the game, though he graduated from his prospect status last season. He struggled a bit with run prevention in his rookie year, though his peripherals looked better with the results and that’s being backed up early on in 2022. The righty has a 2.40 ERA to go with a 2.89 FIP, doing a much better job of keeping the ball in the yard. He can get a little wild sometimes so patience will be key for Boston here, but if he gets ahead in counts he’s very good at finishing off at bats. He is struggling, relatively speaking, a bit more of late though, allowing at least three runs in each of his last three starts after allowing one or fewer in his first five. Gilbert sits in the mid-90s with his fastball and leans heavily on his slider while also mixing in his curveball and changeup from time to time.
Roenis Elías has had three stints with the Mariners along with his time spent in Boston, and for a couple of years he was a solid multi-inning lefty for Seattle. It’s not clear he’ll even be on the roster this weekend, though, as he was called up to replace some pitchers who couldn’t make the trip to Toronto this week for vaccination reasons.
Notable Position Players
Ty France has been the biggest offensive force for the Mariners early on in this season, continuing a recent breakout of his from previous years. There hasn’t been a whole lot of power here, but it’s still been about average to go with incredible contact skills and solid patience as well. Pitchers are going to have to hit the edges of the zone against him.
Jesse Winker was the big addition for Seattle’s lineup this year in a trade with the Reds. He’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start by his standards, and while he’s walking more than he’s striking out he’s hit for much less power than would be expected from him.
Julio Rodríguez is the top prospect making waves for the Mariners, and came into the year as arguably the best prospect in all of baseball. The outfielder is still finding his footing in the majors, though, and has been susceptible to the strikeouts.
J.P. Crawford is one of the more underrated players in the American League in my view as a good defensive shortstop with good on-base skills and some solid pop along with it.
Adam Frazier was acquired in a trade last summer and is another player in this lineup who isn’t going to hit for much power but will put a lot of balls in play.
Eugenio Suárez bucks the low-power trend here, representing a home run threat from the right side of the plate, though one with strikeout issues as well.
Mike Ford is a former Yankee who has just started getting some run in this Mariners lineup.
Steven Souza Jr. is another guy who is just starting to get some playing time and is struggling out of the gate.
Cal Raleigh also graduated from prospect status last season, like Gilbert above, and is still trying to figure out major-league pitching while playing solidly behind the plate.
Paul Sewald heads up what is really a big three for Seattle in the late innings. He’s given up a couple of homers this year which have served to inflate his numbers a bit, but he misses bats and is showing much-improved control early on.
Adres Muñoz has some of the best pure stuff that you’ll find in the American League, but like many raw relievers his command can come and go depending on the night.
Diego Castillo has gotten off to a rough start for Seattle, with a declining strikeout rate and an increasing walk rate.
Kyle Lewis has been very exciting when healthy, but he’s struggled to stay on the field. He’s currently rehabbing a knee injury and could be back soon, but probably not until after this series.
Mitch Haniger suffered a pretty bad ankle sprain towards the end of April and it appears he won’t be back in action until sometime in July.
Evan White has just started a rehab assignment after missing the entire season so far, so he won’t be available for this series.
It’s not going to be ideal baseball weather on Thursday for the opener with temperatures in the 50s and clouds, but the good news is any rain should be out of the area around first pitch. Beyond that, things look very nice with temperatures rising as the weekend moves along.