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Matt Brash shines, Mariners bats stutter in 3-2 loss to White Sox

What if we just made the whole ship out of sliders?

Seattle Mariners v. Chicago White Sox
Taking a moment to be so grateful for actual game photos of Matt Brash so we don’t have to use the same picture day one 40x
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I am the kind of person who eats the least-delicious food on my plate first (looking at you, cruciferous vegetables), in order to better enjoy an uninterrupted stream of deliciousness later, so that’s the approach we’re taking to the recap today. Please bear past the stinky soggy steamed brussels sprouts with me so we can get to the good stuff later on.

Okay, soggy sprouts up first. Note: do not @ me in the comments with “but you should try roasting brussels sprouts!” Yes that is the superior way to enjoy them but we cannot always have what we want, sometimes you show up to someone’s house and they are putting out a side of sickly steamed vegetables and you just have to make the best of it. That’s essentially what the Mariners hitters were offering up today, failing to take advantage of noted Not Good pitcher Vince Velasquez, who issued more walks (3) than he did strikeouts (2) and yet remained relatively unscathed by the Mariners hitters, other than Eugenio Suárez’s first home run as a Mariner:

The Mariners had an opportunity in the third, when Velasquez issued two of those walks back-to-back with only one out, but despite putting a good charge into the ball (xBA of .860), Winker was robbed by a sterling defensive play from centerfielder Luis Robert before Haniger popped out harmlessly to end the inning:

And so on. A potential rally in the fifth was snuffed out by Haniger being punched out on a tough pitch, 97 on the black, from reliever Reynaldo Lopez. A mini rally in the seventh was snuffed out by Jesse Winker striking out against, surprise, a lefty. And another possible rally in the eighth was ended on this particularly brutal call against Jarred Kelenic:

The Mariners would claw back to get a run in the ninth, with Jesse Winker getting his first RBI as a Mariner on a nicely-hit single to center that scored J.P. Crawford, who ran straight through Manny Acta’s stop sign at third, bless his heart, but by that point the bullpen had already leaked what would be Chicago’s winning run, as Diego Castillo swung back to looking like Badiego instead of the recent improvement he’s shown, fighting his command in an agonizingly long inning where he threw 29 pitches, only 13 for strikes. Yikes.

Okay, the unpleasant part is over. Let’s switch to the fun part: Matt Brash’s debut. If the Mariners hitters were soggy vegetables, Matt Brash was a delicious burger (a slider, obvs).

Full transparency: I have been the low one on Brash on staff for a while, mostly because of an annoying quirk of circumstance where every time I caught him in Arkansas, he was struggling with his command and falling into deep counts against hitters more often than you’d like to see. I thought his profile screamed reliever with his funky delivery, smaller stature, and heavy reliance on two pitches. After today, though, I can clearly see a path to Brash as a regular middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Brash came out of the gates hot today, with a 12-pitch first professional inning that saw him record his first pro strikeout:

And then his second one right after that:

I’m not sure I totally trust what Statcast has—Gameday had Brash throwing exclusively a knuckle curve—but the breakdown on Savant is about 35% four-seamers (96 MPH on average, topping out at 99), 34% curveballs, 26% sliders, and 5% changeups (Statcast has him throwing four, I only counted two). I think Brash threw more slider than that and some of the curves are misclassified, which is okay, because when you have a wizard pitch, you should throw that pitch a lot. Revolutionary stuff here, I know. But that ability to mix pitches and show hitters a lot of different looks will help as the lineup turns over a third time, which is where Brash got caught up here today: he missed his spot badly on a slider to Robert, leaving it in the lower middle of the plate for Robert, with his prodigious power, to disappear over the fence, and then failed to sneak a fastball past Abreu, leading to his exit from the game for the day. Still, it was a thrilling performance from one of the biggest question marks coming out of camp, and gave Mariners fans something fun to focus on in a day that was otherwise not so fun. So here’s to you, Matt Brash-y.

But wait! There’s dessert!

Kate’s Unsung Hero of the Day Award:

If you read the chart, you see that Matt Festa had the highest WPA today for any Mariner which, is, uh, not great news for the batters. But it is great news for Festa, who is making a real case to hang around even after rosters contract. Coming on in relief of Brash, Festa struck out both batters he faced today and looked nasty doing so, needing just 11 pitches (8 of them strikes) to retire his hitters and shut down a potential big inning for the White Sox.