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Pilots vs. Steelheads intrasquad spotlights the weird, uncomfortable, and wonderful

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Spoiler alert: the game ended in a tie

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Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Today’s intrasquad Mariners game featured: no fans in the seats on a gorgeous Seattle July afternoon, a late start, audio issues aplenty, Sam Haggerty in center field, innings that ended whenever the coaching squad felt they ought to, Justin Dunn doing his best Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde impression, and fans in the livestream chat cosplaying as the Seager family. At one point pre-broadcast Dave Sims could be heard saying YEEHAW in the same tone Mike Blowers says “oh boy” when the Mariners are literally melting down and setting themselves on fire in the middle of an inning. By all accounts, it should have been terrible.

When JP Crawford and Kyle Lewis went back-to-back off Justin Dunn in the first inning, though, for a second it was like each of those balls punched through the layers of [gestures broadly at 2020] and zinged directly into the joy-space baseball’s absence has left behind. Our pal Brittney Bush put it most succinctly:

Jerry Dipoto joined the broadcast for the first couple innings and seemed to be priming the fanbase for a tough season by noting that the Mariners will be playing 2020, if the season happens, in a division made up entirely of contending teams (Jerry seems to have conveniently forgotten about the San Francisco Giants in his accounting of the Western Division, who have never officially announced their status as a rebuilding team, but is very much in the same prospect-upswing as Seattle after three straight losing seasons including a bottom-two MLB finish in 2017; in fact, five of last year’s Western Division teams were bottom half finishers in the league). Dipoto does spend some time noting how good the Athletics are, which is true, and the Mariners have also lost one of their best A’s-killers in Felix Hernandez, who owned the A’s—a career 26-15 against Oakland, his best by far against any opponent. We need a new A’s-killer, and stat.

Perhaps it will be Justus Sheffield, who looked sharp in his first intrasquad look. Sheff dispatched Dee Gordon quickly, getting ahead 0-2 before locating a fastball at the bottom of the zone that Dee harmlessly flipped out to Kyle Lewis in center. Lewis wasn’t overly challenged with balls over his had in center today, but had a particularly laser throw and looked comfortable and easy out there—certainly so in comparison to other outfielders we’ve seen the Mariners run out over the past couple of years (decades). Evan White made contact but lined directly into the shift, one of many we saw on the day, and Kyle Seager popped out to fellow third baseman Patrick Wisdom to end the inning, although truthfully Seager should have been called out on strikes a couple pitches before, but umpire/farm director Andy McKay declined to call the strikeout.

Immediately following the inning, in one of the more impressively charming hot mics ever recorded, multiple viewers reach the broadcast booth to inform them that the audio volume is vacillating wildly, hovering most consistently on nigh-unintelligible. The wives of both Dave Sims and Kyle Lewis appear to reach out directly to inform the crew that the volume is far too low. The issue is rectified by the following inning, mercifully.

In his second inning of work, Sheffield similarly dispatched Tom Murphy (whom Dipoto described as “NFL-strong” which indicates Dipoto does not know about Tom Murphy’s rich familial experience with upstate New York’s Highland Games scene), but ran into the buzzsaw of the Unsinkable Tim Lopes when Lopes snuck a ground-ball single up the middle and then promptly stole second. Sam Haggerty is up next and flies out softly (also of note here: a particularly nice throw in to hold the runner by center fielder Kyle Lewis), but the most interesting part of this discussion is Dipoto’s revelation that several members of the Mariners front office and coaching staff—himself, Scott Servais, Brian DeLunas, Pete Woodworth, Trent Blank, and Max Weiner, among others—played Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) during their quarantine, which they used not only as an amusement but also as a discussion tool to talk about strategy, in-game and otherwise. Not to toot our own horn, but I feel pretty secure that our own Grant Bronsdon could have given them a run for their money. Baseball professionals, they’re just like us! Donnie Walton also makes some infield contact off Sheffield, redirecting a ball at Andy McKay’s midsection that might or might not have factored into JP Crawford bobbling the ball, but Sheffield strikes out Braden Bishop on a particularly nasty pitch to end the inning (or at least, transition the inning into drills).

Justin Dunn did not have as smooth a return to the spotlight, as he continued to workshop the necessary repertoire to continue starting games. The Steelheads starter (despite a confusing graphic from the team) got early weak contact from Shed Long before facing J.P. Crawford, which highlighted the long-term challenge ahead of Dunn: keeping left-handed hitters in check. Last year, in Arkansas, Dunn gave up 64 hits in 57.0 innings against lefties, including seven home runs, with a 64/29 K/BB and 4.26 ERA, compared to 54 hits in 74.2 IP against righties, just six big flies, and a 94/10 K/BB with a 3.01 ERA. His enemy is his toolkit, which is a good fastball and an excellent slider, neither of which overpower or deceive opposite-handers. Thus, as Dipoto emphasized on the broadcast, improving his changeup is a must, and at least today he showed more of the distance he has to go. After working to 1-1 on Crawford, Dunn gave his change-up a couple gos.

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Faced with 2-1, he threw a slightly more competitive version of the pitch, but it failed to catch Crawford’s eye.

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In theory, Dunn has all the qualities to be a good starter. He’s well-built, smart, competitive, with low-90s velocity that he maintains, and a good strikeout pitch in his slider. It’s good seeing him attempt to address his main liability out of the gate here, but sticking with the pitch is a must, and it may not look pretty at times, if ever. What will keep Dunn competitive is what he did on 3-1, faced with a hitter’s count, throwing a good enough fastball anyways to wrestle the count back to a fair fight.

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3-2, Crawford set off the scoring all the same, turning on an elevated heater for a solo shot. The troubles didn’t stop there, however, as the Pilots had the star of the day on their side. Kyle Lewis brought some extra boxes of Wheaties into the hotel this week, it seems, with a bit of extra pep in his step from that, as well as getting the start in center field today. Dunn fell into a 3-1 hole again, before Lewis did his ride to the ballpark dirty:

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Dunn labored through two more plate appearances, getting Daniel Vogelbach to fly out before walking Austin Nola and bringing us to a situational inning end. In the second inning, with the lower half of the lineup and perhaps a bit less adrenaline, his command was sharper. Most encouragingly, he threw a couple changeups that cleared the “capable pitch” threshold against Jake Fraley, leading to a strikeout there, as well as of Patrick Wisdom to conclude his day. The tale for Dunn, ultimately, was a struggle of falling behind early or getting ahead, and hopefully more second inning Dunn will appear than the first.

Nestor Cortes, the man of many arm slots, was next out of the bullpen, and wasted no time in using that deception to fool poor little lamb Evan White, dropping it low, low, low for this strike three that even World’s Gentlest Umpire Andy McKay had to call:

Also coming in from the bullpen: Assistant GM Justin Hollander, who sounds a lot like Jerry Dipoto, who covers the rest of the game along with Dave Sims on the live stream. Hollander uses his time to highlight the Negro Leagues Museum, which is struggling along with most everything else in the shutdown. You can support the museum with a direct donation here, or buy some merch in the team store—anything helps!

Nick Margevicius is the next one out of the pen and he looks sharp, quickly retiring the first two batters he faces. However, [extremely Monty Python voice] no one expects the Kyle Lewis Inquisition:

Aside from exciting Dominican phenom Noelvi Marte, KLew has been the breakout star of the early workouts and he did nothing to dispel that narrative today.

Next on the bump was Rule-5 pick “You Don’t Mess With The” Yohan Ramírez, who put on display more of his limitations than the glimmering potential in a more refined version of himself. Tim Lopes sat fastball first pitch, driving a leadoff double to open the inning, and from there Ramírez’s command flickered in and out of frame like the spider webs across the center field camera. His fastball had good zip and his breaking ball a chomping bite, but like several pitchers on the day, the breaking stuff was not yet sharpened up. No hitter after Lopes squared Ramírez up well, but a few contact-oriented hitters like Dee Gordon and Evan White poked balls through the hole to tie the game at 3-3.

Alas the—Pilots? Steelheads? Whoever scored first—would not be able to muster up more than their two Kyle Lewis/one JP Crawford dingers, so the rest of the game proceeded in a tie with the pitching as the highlight. Brandon Brennan and his elegant toe point and killer changeup appeared in the bottom of the fourth, allowing Justin Hollander to preen again about stealing Brennan away in the Rule 5 draft from the Rockies, because Brandan Brennan thought he would rather go pitch in Coors Field than in Seattle, and while the Mariners do not have a history of success but what were you thinking BB? The beer is good but it’s not that good, we have just as many mountains, AND we have waterways. Anyway, Nola, Marmolejos, and Fraley could not solve the case of Brandon Brennan and the Dastardly Changeup, and Hollander says the Mariners, while not early adopters of analytics were ahead of other teams, so we will take both of these measured wins into the next inning.

That swampy sensation that hit you around the top of the fifth was lefty Taylor Guilbeau stepping up on the hill. Guilbeau’s schtick is being a reverse-splits lefty, with a changeup as his best pitch beyond a mid-90s fastball. At times in his development, however, his slider took precedent, and a particularly nice one causes Kyle Seager to give the ball appropriate social distance on his swing for strike three. A walk to Tom Murphy led to one of the day’s more delightful moments, as Guilbeau’s lackadaisical leg kick enables Murph to swipe second base at the pace of a trepidatious water buffalo.

It’s the first day for social distancing practice too, Shed
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Tim Lopes chops a ball to J.P. Crawford on the next pitch, who makes a quick chuck that led Daniel Vogelbach up the line but appeared to still allow him to apply the tag. From his mound-area angle, umpire Andy McKay sees things differently, and instead it’s two on, one out. As Hollander explains the club won’t be afraid to start both Murphy and Nola at the same time on a given day, Guilbeau walks Sam Haggerty after a passed ball from taxi catcher Brian O’Keefe, and the inning ends unceremoniously by manager fiat with a pickoff drill.

If you were not paying very close attention—which would be entirely within your prerogative—you might have missed it when the pitcher switched from Guilbeau to Taylor Williams, who rudely also has the same first name, the same high socks, and the same hair, although significantly less wet-looking and significantly more right-handed.

The other fun thing about Taylor Williams is he grew up a giant Mariners fan in Vancouver, WA and went to Camas High School. Also he appears to be pretty good! TWilly (which is apparently his preferred nomenclature, as his Insta handle is freetwilly, where his wife refers to him as Twilly) gets a quick two outs with the anxious-swinging Shed Long grounding out easily on the first pitch, followed by an easy flyout. TWilly walks Kyle Lewis, because Kyle Lewis eats bases like Pac-Man eats pellets, but gets another easy groundout from Vogey before things shift over into drills.

The game goes six innings instead of the forecasted seven, because even the Mariners have a case of quaran-time. Carl Edwards Jr., who we haven’t seen much of in live BP on the stream yet, has the top of the sixth. Hollander says CEJ’s stuff was some of the most explosive he’s seen in camp, and and he gets Walton to roll over one one despite some location inaccuracies. Braden Bishop displays more of the saint-like patience he’s been showing on Twitter lately and manages to lay off some poorly-located stuff, earning himself a walk. Cal Raleigh gets into the game only to quickly become the second out of the inning as he’s fooled by a big-league running fastball. Evan White works a walk and things shift into drill mode, with Dee Gordon doing some situational bunting, and Justin Hollander openly advocates for a home run derby to determine a winner. JH, we’re warming to you. Sam Delaplane closes things out and while he doesn’t allow any loud contact, he again lacked command, which is a little troubling as it’s his second rusty outing in a row, followed by some shaky outings at Spring Training. Just close your eyes and imagine it’s all Modesto, Sam. We’re happy to pipe in some cow smells and the terrifying rictus of Wally the Walnut if you need it.

That’s the wrap, 3-3 on the board, an appropriately anti-climactic conclusion to a peculiar in-house matchup, but the real-adjacency offered genuine delight and intrigue all the same. Saturday and Sunday will have intrasquad matchups as well, including a thoroughly enticing pair of starters in RHP Logan Gilbert and LHP Brandon Williamson. It’ll be the first look at two promising young righties for many fans, and the first chance to see Williamson for anyone who didn’t catch him in Everett last summer, so surely the Mariners will be eager to get fans excited about some of the prospects they’ve staked their rebuild arou-

Oh. Well, never mind then, I guess. See you Monday, Mariners.