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About Last Night: Learning on the Job

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The thrills and chills of letting the kids play in the bigs.

Minnesota Twins v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

I’m a kinetic learner. Given the option of a lecture or an interactive demonstration, I’ll give things a go myself 10 times out of 10. It will involve failure, but failure my body will remember more meaningfully than my mind might. Unsurprisingly, my tolerance for bungled attempts is higher than most, and that extends to my feelings on baseball, particularly player development. Even for the most auditory or visual of learners, there is value in attempting to perform the task asked of you at the level you’ll need to do so. Better still is learning to do so in low-stakes situations, much as the Astros allowed youngsters like José Altuve and George Springer to do. That is what the 2019 season is for the Mariners, and we saw every end of the spectrum last night.

Erik Swanson got shelled for the second straight outing last night, facing a poor matchup against a Twins team that leads the league in doing damage to four-seam fastballs. He’s had two stellar starts and four shaky ones, and the work he needs to do on his secondary pitches remains evident. The 25-year-old has had fewer innings in the minor than his age would suggest due to injuries, but he’s clearly still a work in progress, and there is an understandable clamor for him to return to the minors to work on things. I think he should stay.

Starts like last night’s outing are tough to watch, but there’s no better feedback than seeing whether your adjustments are working as intended against the very competition you’re training for. The confluence of the Mariners lack of intended competitiveness in 2019, the alternative being the pitcher-toxic PCL, and the nearer access to the full support system of the Mariners Director of Pitching Development Brian DeLunas - who the team has shuttled pitchers from all levels to see - make Seattle the place to be for a young guy like Swanson. Seeing him take his lumps is disappointing, but between the injury to Félix Hernández and the alternative being mid-30s veterans with little future impact nor guarantee of superior performance, it may also be inevitable. Seeing the young Mariners learn to sink or swim sail is the most compelling piece of this season for me, and we saw glimpses of how that can be a joy last night as well.

This line drive homer from J.P. Crawford came with the game already decided, on the heels of Ryon Healy’s first pitch fastball-hunting dinger to start the inning. It didn’t change the outcome of the game. It didn’t make Crawford into a clearly imposing offensive talent. It was just a great swing on a slider that was exactly where the catcher called for it in a 3-2 count. It pairs nicely with Mariners 3B/infield coach Perry Hill has done with his defense, which Crawford reportedly says helped save his career. Crawford will likely spend the rest of the season up in the bigs, struggling and succeeding and hopefully more of the latter. That’s what I want to watch for the rest of this year, and if there’s any reasonable opportunity to let guys practice against the best competition possible, I hope we see that too.