One complaint I’ve had about this organization over the years is that they tend to play things safe. While Brian Cashman scales buildings and makes Grand Gestures befitting a rom-com hero and Andrew Friedman loads up Brinks trucks to drive to free agents’ houses and A.J. Preller is, I don’t know, doing donuts on a flaming motorcycle suspended over a shark tank in outer space, the Mariners and Jerry Dipoto tend to toe a more hesitant line. Outside of Dipoto’s Giant Splash Trades, which have largely dried up as he’s remade the organization to his liking, shipping out old expensive players and bringing in young, cheap ones, the Mariners are rarely headline-grabbers these days, having played their last two seasons and most of this one in a quiet anonymity. The Mariners have been conservative with the way they spend money in free agency, almost never involving themselves in pursuit of top-tier names. Their approach at the trade deadline this year was more a whisper than a shout. They are generally slower-paced to the point of poky in advancing players through the farm system, including not calling up top prospects in order to wring the most service time possible out of them.
All this to say, these Mariners calling up righty pitching prospect Matt Brash is a boldly declarative move for them, even if it’s something a different team might have done weeks ago.
It’s bold not just because of the risk inherent in adding an unseasoned rookie to the roster this late in the game, but also because of the roster fallout from the move: not DFA’ing Matt Andriese to make room for Brash, although that is a sucky thing for someone who’s been a doughty mopper-upper for the team on their worst days, but for the vote of no confidence this represents in Yusei Kikuchi. Today is Kikuchi’s scheduled start day, but apparently, Tyler Anderson will be making the start on short rest instead; the story is that Anderson came to the Mariners and asked to start, to make amends for his pitiful outing against the Angels on Saturday where he essentially served up batting practice for 50 pitches. But no matter who it came from, starting Anderson in Kikuchi’s place is a rare admission of failure from this front office, an acknowledgement that their biggest monetary commitment to a free agent, in the biggest moment of the season, just doesn’t work.
The assumption is that Brash will piggyback with Anderson depending on his effectiveness; Brash is stretched out as a starter, but a relief role is theoretically a softer landing for a youngster whose command can be wayward at times. The joke here at LL is I have never seen Matt Brash good; for some reason, the few Brash starts I was able to watch were all ones where his command was all over the place, both in Everett and Arkansas, although to his credit, he did tighten things up in Double-A, lowering his walk rate from almost 14% to a still-bad 10.4%. Even when he’s on, however, Brash has one (1) outing over the entire minor-league season where he didn’t walk a batter; a good outing for him currently is only walking one every other inning. Walks might not haunt as much in Double-A, where Brash could easily strike the next however many batters out and escape the inning without damage, but handing out a bunch of free passes won’t cut it at the big-league level, no matter how good the stuff is. That’s the risk these Mariners are taking.
Now to the fun stuff. The reason the Mariners are willing to take this risk on Brash is that when he’s landing his slider, it’s the best pitch in minor-league baseball, an absolute day-wrecker of a pitch that’s really more like two pitches in one, a slider with curveball movement. Sometimes it’s a little more slider-y, sometimes it’s a little more curveball-y, always it is hellacious, donning an invisibility cloak right as it gets to the plate.
Matt Brash's Disgusting Stuff.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 3, 2021
What in the name of Kerry Wood is this Filth? pic.twitter.com/QuORpXkHuM
Brash pairs his breaking ball with a fastball that sits an easy 95-96 and can reach higher and rides up on hitters, eliciting some truly hellacious swings. It also has some arm-side run, and all this movement is responsible for some of that wandering command; Brash’s fastball can be almost too lively, a bucking bronco that he can’t always tame to paint inside the lines. But when he’s landing it, it tunnels well with his slider, and makes for a very un-fun time in the box for hitters.
This is #ShortGuyBias, admittedly, but I’ve tagged Brash as a reliever since he came into the system. His pitch profile, command, and height all suggest high-leverage reliever to me. The funny thing about Brash’s height—he barely scrapes a Stroman-esque six feet—is he’s got the legs and arms of a much taller man, like the pieces got mixed up at the factory and somewhere a long-torsoed fellow is walking around with the stubbier arms and legs Matt Brash should have received. Sorry to that theoretical man, but in Brash’s case it works out fantastically, giving him the extension of a much taller man and a bit of a mind flip for batters in the box.
Honestly, pitching hasn’t been the major issue for this team. Last night’s offensive explosion aside, the 2021 Mariners have struggled to plate runs, and their deadline acquisition to help with that, Abraham Toro, is cooler-than-cool-ice-cold for September, with a wRC+ of 36. The real splash move would have been casting service time concerns to the wind and calling up the dynamic Julio Rodríguez. Unfortunately, Kikuchi’s pitching has been an issue, and it’s good to see the Mariners make a bold—Brash, even—move to address it. The odds remain paper-thin, the excitement remains high. Here’s hoping this is the first toe into a wild and thrilling ocean of an off-season.