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Mariners drop pair of split-squad games, baseball is hard

Today’s games illustrate the difference between “MLB pitcher” and “MLB-adjacent pitcher”

Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Today the Mariners played two games at the same time, with roughly the same caliber of lineup for each squad; the main difference was between pitchers. On ROOT Sports, facing the Diamondbacks, the seasoned former Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray; on a shaky MLB TV stream from the Giants which eventually just gave up and became an audio stream, the young prospect Bryce Miller. Miller is very good, and very close to making the big leagues, but today’s games illustrated how large that gap can be between being close to the bigs and being there.

Miller came out strong in the first inning; LaMonte Wade Jr. started off the game with a bunt single against him but he then punched out Thairo Estrada looking and Michael Conforto swinging, and got some help via a nifty play from shortstop Mason McCoy to end the inning.

Miller’s stuff looked good today: his fastball lived at the top of the zone at a firm 95-96, and he mixed in his three breaking balls well: the slider, the changeup, and the heavy, sinking curveball he calls the “cannonball.” Unfortunately, he struggled a little with commanding that deep arsenal, because that is why he is an MLB-adjacent pitcher and not an MLB pitcher, just yet.

After getting two quick outs in the second—including a masterful punchout of Brandon Crawford to begin his second inning of work where he skillfully mixed the high fastball and changeup to keep the veteran entirely off-balance—Miller seemed to lose his handle on the slider, spiking a couple in the dirt, which then snowballed into seemingly losing his handle on his whole arsenal, falling behind his next three hitters, surrendering three straight singles (one was a bunt single) and then a well-struck gapper double off the bat of Wade Jr. to put the Giants up 3-0.

Miller was able to dance around some trouble in the third, surviving another double with a man aboard (Brandon Crawford, who learned not to chase after Miller’s changeups and walked, but remains Very Slow and thus did not score on the double), and coming back with an inning-ending strikeout on the slider:

Miller’s line—five runs (four earned) over just three innings—looks worse than it actually was; he did allow two batters to reach in the fourth on a pair of singles, but Eugenio Suárez committed a rare fielding error, allowing another batter to reach, and minor-league callup Peyton Alford—coming in with the bases loaded and no outs, good luck kid—struggled in relief of Miller, allowing those runners to come in on a pair of wild pitches.

Despite some wildness, Alford (highest MiLB level reached: A+) also struck out a pair, getting Ford Proctor looking and Michael Conforto swinging, continuing the tone for Mariners pitching this game: a parade of young arms facing mostly San Francisco’s frontline or Triple-A hitters, just out here doing their best. Sam Carlson (A) got two strikeouts of his own and put up a scoreless inning, surviving a Brandon Crawford leadoff double and ending his inning getting big-leaguer Roberto Pérez to strike out swinging. Troy Taylor (A), who was just drafted in 2022, also had an adventurous outing, allowing a run to score on a wild pitch, but rebounded, getting Brandon Crawford to fly out harmlessly to end the inning. Ty Adcock (A) got three groundouts in the seventh but did allow a productive-out run and a chance for Little League coaches everywhere to expound on the importance of not walking the leadoff batter.

Dayeison Arias (AA) worked a clean eighth, but by that point the hole was pretty well dug between the seven runs allowed by the pitching staff and the lack of offense against Giants starter Logan Webb, who somehow extricated himself from numerous jams despite scattering eight hits and three walks over five innings of work. The Mariners got 34 of their runs on the day in the ninth inning with two outs, when bah gawd that’s Alberto Rodríguez’s music, as the slugger muscled a three-run home run to bring the score to a more respectable-looking 7-4. Thanks to the Giants’ stream utterly pooping the bed by this point in the game, here’s the only video we have of it (Thanks Will):

Sometimes it’s hard to look at someone like Robbie Ray and remember that once, he too was a prospect, just like these players toeing the mound in a split-squad away and facing big-leaguers for the first time, fighting off the nerves fireworking away inside them. It’s hard to remember that when Ray looks this strong: five innings pitched, five strikeouts, two hits, one run, one walk. That one run came in Ray’s fifth inning of work, when Phillip Evans ambushed a first-pitch fastball for a leadoff double (and Arizona’s first hit of the day) that crept over Cooper Hummel’s head (but probably is caught by Teoscar, if we’re being honest) before the Diamondbacks small-balled him home for what was the first run of the game. Other than that, Ray was dominant, spinning sliders and foisting fastballs and sinking sinkers in mid-season form. In lieu of showing you his five strikeouts, I am going to show you him fielding the bunt that moved the runner to third base, because even though it was an extremely annoying way to get a run charged to him and get served a loss, I did not know Ray had this athleticism in his arsenal. A jump throw, even!

Unfortunately, the offense remained in springtime sleep mode, scraping up just one lousy run while getting three-hit by the Diamondbacks’ fearsome pitching corps of retread veterans and a group of pitchers wearing offensive linemen numbers (Peter Solomon, Mitchell Stumpo, Ryan Hendrix, Kevin Ginkel?). The Mariners struck out a combined fifteen times against this crew which is, you know, un-ideal, en route to a 4-1 loss (those other runs came off a pair of homers: one off Paul Sewald, still warming back into Cactus League action after a pair of off-season surgeries, off the bat of Diamondbacks prospect and star of the Northwest League Tim Tawa; and low-minors relief arm Luis Curvelo, who came in to try to bail out Sewald and instead was rudely greeted by another Diamondback hitter ambushing a fastball, this time for a two-run homer). That’s enough baseball for today, I think. The crew will reunite tomorrow for a game against the Padres that is being nicely televised by MLB Network; it starts at 1:10 PT.