Last night, I finished an article where I essentially wrote that, for the past two years, Justus Sheffield has been an inferior version of the pitcher that he was in 2019. In the same night, he showed why that’s become the case. He threw his slider more than he usually does, and it was as ineffective as ever. He gave up 10 hits and seven earned runs over 5.0 innings, which brought his ERA and FIP on the season to 5.51 and 5.28, respectively. In an effort to give our overworked editor-in-chief Kate Preusser and watch some stronger pitching tonight, I was (and am!) tasked with the game recap.
It started off swimmingly! The immortal Rich Hill and his curveball are always a treat, and Justin Dunn began the game perhaps as strong as I’ve ever seen him. A good exemplification of this is his at-bat against Taylor Walls in the second inning.
He started it off with an elevated fastball for a swinging strike:
Followed it up with an 0-1 fastball that misses its spot vertically but keeps it to his arm-side:
But then Dunn flashed something that I haven’t really seen from him before:
Dunn actually seems to miss his spot to his glove-side, but aside from intent, this pitch is actually perfectly placed. He has issues with both of his breaking pitches. With his slider, he doesn’t throw it out of the zone as much as he could, and it doesn’t fare very well in the zone. With his curveball, he uses it like a get-me-over pitch. It’s effective — he has a 31.3% CSW with it on the year — but he might be able to maximize its utility if he uses it to backfoot lefties and throw it away from righties.
Then the next at-bat happened! Consider this 2-2 offering:
Dunn misses his spot badly to his glove-side, which brushes Kevin Kiermaier back some. The camera cuts away, so I’m not certain, but after Dunn gets the ball back from Tom Murphy, it kind of looks like he’s drawing his right arm in towards his torso. Maybe he’s just shaking it out, maybe he’s scratching his armpit. I don’t know!
Here’s the next pitch:
He misses his pitch glove-side again, but there’s not anything like the last pitch that would signal that Dunn is dealing with an arm issue. At least, not without knowing that he did. Dunn was pulled after this inning, with what the team is calling right shoulder inflammation. Normally, that might be a sign of relief after seeing a pitcher yanked with a normal pitch count after two innings. Not so for Dunn. He just returned from two weeks on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. That’s...not good!
Against the Rays, it’s pretty much a death sentence to lose your starter after the first few innings, but the Mariners bullpen patched it together pretty well. JT Chargois and Rafael Montero gave up two earned runs apiece over three innings, while Anthony Misiewicz followed them with one earned run allowed over two innings. That was good enough to keep them within striking distance through the end of the game.
Rich Hill threw a lot of strikes and limited the amount of hard contact he allowed, but he made two mistakes that kept it close. The first one a no-doubter, courtesy of Luis Torrens:
The second came an inning later off the bat of Ty France:
Against one of the best teams in baseball, there’s not a ton of margin for error. Scoring four runs off of their starter over five innings is a strong start, but losing your own starter early in the game is an equalizer and leaves pretty little wiggle room given that the Mariners are a deeply flawed team.
Against Peter Fairbanks, running out Dylan Moore, Jake Bauers, and Luis Torrens didn’t (and doesn’t!) exactly instill confidence, But this is baseball! This is chaos ball! With Dylan Moore aboard with a walk, Jake Bauers singled up the middle to move Moore to second. Torrens, who homered earlier, follows that up with a bunt(???) that he pops up. But fear not! More chaos ball.
Shed Long Jr. digs himself into a bit of a hole in an 0-2 count against Fairbanks, but it didn’t matter:
An 87 mph slider just below the zone is hardly the worst pitch ever, but Long pokes it out to left field to a sliding Randy Arozarena, which gets Moore home and Bauers to third base. That leaves it up to Kyle Seager, who comes in to pinch hit for Taylor Trammell:
Fairbanks leaves it out a little too far over the plate, and the Seager does what seasoned veterans ostensibly do, which is get the ball past the infield and out into right field. Bauer scores! The Mariners win! The Rays lose!
At the beginning of the game, the Mariners were fun to watch, because Dunn was pitching well. For the next two and half hours, they were mostly not fun to watch, because no one was pitching very well. But in the last inning, they showed us that nothing really matters, and that baseball is gonna baseball. Peter Fairbanks might be one of the better relievers in Major League Baseball, but when you have the opportunity to lose to a middling team, you gotta do it. And he did it.