It feels like a long time ago that we watched a red-eyed Kyle Seager waving goodbye to the crowd at T-Mobile Park. It feels like a very long time ago that we saw Taylor Trammell laughing as he made an improbable catch in the outfield, or Ty France blossoming into a Gold Glove-adjacent first baseman, or Paul Sewald baffling hitters with a fastball that sits a full tick lower than MLB average, or any of the other nightly heroes that stepped up to help propel the 2021 Mariners to an improbable 90 wins. And it feels like a very, very, very long time ago that the Mariners started off Opening Day last year winning in a way that would become emblematic of the 2021 Mariners: the most chaotic way possible. After a long series of increasingly-nonsensical plays, they finally won on a walk-off walk.
Today, in their season opener, the Mariners somehow contracted an off-season marked by doubt and uncertainty, a wide swath of personnel changes including the departure of their franchise third baseman, and the annual long winter slumber of baseball, and drew a firm connecting line between the 2021 team and the 2022 team. Yes, this team looks different, with a bona fide ace heading up the rotation and a franchise cornerstone missing from third base, but the 2022 Mariners are here to reassure you that they’re ready to still be the lovable goofballs you fell in love with last year, equal parts fun and frustrating, ready to make you get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
In non-teeth-clenching baseball, Robbie Ray was as advertised in his Mariners debut. The old saying is solo homers won’t beat you, and the lone homer Ray allowed did not, in fact, beat him. He went seven innings—the first pitcher in this majors this year to hit the seven-inning mark—throwing 96 pitches, 63 of them for strikes (65%), living up to his reputation as a strike-thrower. John described Ray as a brutalist artist in his 40 in 25, noting his pitching philosophy is remarkably simple for a starter: fastballs up, sliders down, here it is, hit it if you can. Largely, the Twins could not, in fact, hit it; Ray scattered just three hits over his seven innings, including a pair of hard-hit singles, one to perennial pest Carlos Correa, and a home run from fellow Nu-Twin Gio Urshela when one of Ray’s sliders grabbed a little too much of the plate and Urhsela literally golfed it into the stands for a home run. He collected five strikeouts and 17 whiffs, more than double the next closest pitcher in the game.
Here’s Ray’s pitch distribution from today:
Yet despite not allowing batters to do much with his stuff, Ray nonetheless had to dance out of danger multiple times thanks to occasional lapses of command that saw him hit a batter and issue four walks. Ray stated in his post-game interview that his misses were where he wanted them to be and he felt his stuff was crisp, which, is a little bit of a hot take when you’ve walked the eight and nine hitters once each, but we’ll chalk this one up to getting back in the swing of things, and we certainly won’t quibble about Ray’s performance today. Ray ran an incredible 90% strand rate last season; haters will say it’s unsustainable but he stranded all six of the runners he allowed to reach base today, dialing up clutch double plays, strikeouts, and weak contact when he needed it.
Robbie Ray, Wicked 86mph Back Foot Slider. pic.twitter.com/2QvTjUblxS— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 8, 2022
Not that Ray wasn’t grateful to his outfielders for putting away those fly balls—here he’s expressing gratitude to Julio for catching a Carlos Correa inning-ending flyout that stranded two (Julio, for his part, manned center field capably, recording four no-sweat fly ball outs).
Unfortunately, bringing 2021 vibes along also means bringing the not-always-reliable 2021 offense along. The Mariners battled the Twins in a game of “no, actually, you first,” stranding ten—1-0!—batters of their own on base. The Mariners’ only runs of the day came on a Mitch Haniger first-inning home run:
This probably should have been a three-run home run, as Adam Frazier looked to have reached from the leadoff spot when Miguel Sanó seemingly missed the bag, and although we love the chaotic energy of challenging two pitches into the season, the Mariners unfortunately came up short on this one. It turns out clearly-announced audible replay explanations are not any more satisfying when they’re still wrong.
And that’s all the runs the Mariners would get. All game long. That’s the unpleasant part of Chaos Ball, remember, that in order to get to the one-run win, we have to suffer a lot of not-capitalizing-on-opportunites first. Twins starter Joe Ryan was clearly the weaker of the two-first-names pitchers, struggling with the zone mightily; he issued as many walks as he did strike batters out (4), and threw a mere 42 of his 70 pitches for strikes—and that was with a zone that more often resembled a post office than a postage stamp. There was one opportunity in the third where the Mariners threatened against Ryan, which was snuffed out when Correa made an excellent snag on a Mitch Haniger hot shot (106.3 off the bat, giving Hanimal two of the three hardest-hit balls in this game) that seemed destined for left field and an RBI. Correa also robbed Adam Frazier with a leaping grab, meaning Frazier got cheated out of two hits today. I’ll be so very happy to see the back of Correa for a while at the end of this series.
The Mariners got batters on base against Ryan but failed over and over to pounce in his four innings of work, and thus were left to deal with the absolute stinky to high heaven filth of Jhoan Duran. This was my first time watching Duran and man, the Edwin Díaz comparisons are not misplaced. This stuff is absolutely electric, not just triple-digit heat but with wicked movement as well. Ty France managed to turn 101 on the outside black around for a hit, and Jesse Winker followed with a base knock of his own, but Duran proceeded to strike out the side to cap any damage. I don’t normally post opposing team’s stuff in recaps but I need you to understand what they were dealing with:
Jhoan Duran's Ridiculous Stuff. pic.twitter.com/V4iMvqhKcY— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 8, 2022
Zoinks! I mean, ZO-INKS. Call the Zoinksbulance, because we have maximum ZOINKS.
Watching Joan Duran pitch: pic.twitter.com/UY6ow2QC5N— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 9, 2022
(Yes I misspelled his name there I was going phonetically, sorry Jhoan.)
The Mariners also failed to do anything against the less-flamethrow-y Jorge Alcala—pretty rough when 94-98 is somehow less flamethrow-y—and lefty Danny Coulombe, meaning they headed into the two last innings of the game clinging to a one-run lead. Paul Sewald was his Paul-the-Wall self, getting the top of the Twins lineup to pop out softly (Buxton, Polanco), and saw off Correa on a grounder capably handled by Eugenio Suárez, who had a rough day at the plate but made several solid plays at third.
That left Drew Steckenrider in charge of the bottom of the ninth, and the first batter he faced was a pesky Luis Arraez, who fell down 0-2 and then worked a nine-pitch at-bat before golfing a little punch shot for a base hit—70.9 MPH EV with an xBA of .830, unbelievably annoying. Steck rebounded to get Sanó to pop out to Raleigh and strike out Alex Kirilloff on a nasty changeup. That brought up Gary Sánchez, embattled former New Yorker, with the crowd chanting his name: Ga-ry, Ga-ry, Ga-ry. What a fairy tale it would be, right? What a beautiful story of redemption and the power of a change of scenery, of moving to a less toxic environment.
And off the bat, it seemed like that would be the story told:
Time is a flat circle. One-run baseball is back, baby. Prepare accordingly.
Kate’s Unsung Hero Award of the game:
Cal Raleigh might not light up the box score with a single, a little shift-beating chopper, and two walks, but he quietly had one of the best games on the field today on both sides of the ball, capably handling his pitching staff, controlling the running game, and making several key blocks and keeping the ball in front of him. It was a visual leap forward from where Cal was last year and hopefully a sign of things to come.