After last night’s commanding 8-1 win over the Marlins, Scott Servais was cautiously optimistic in his post-game press conference, noting that there have been times before where it’s looked like the team has turned a corner, only to go back to their old ways. “I’m anxious,” the skipper said. “I wish we could play tomorrow’s game right now, I really do. See who shows up.”
He had to wait the requisite 24 hours, but the crew who showed up tonight looked very much like last night’s group. Against a tough pitcher in Edward Cabrera, they worked productive at-bats, scoring runs and driving up Cabrera’s pitch count, and got the Marlins’ bright young starter out of the game by the fifth inning. Meanwhile, George Kirby shook off his 11-hit, five-run poor showing against the Padres and cruised for six innings against the Marlins, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning and a shutout into the sixth.
Ty France set the tone for the Mariners’ offensive approach in the first inning, with a ten-pitch at-bat that ended in a strikeout but chewed into Cabrera’s pitch count early. That flowed nicely into the top of the second, when Teoscar Hernández worked a walk to open the second. We love to see the improved approach, Teo! Jarred Kelenic then hit into a fielder’s choice, narrowly beating out a GIDP, but Eugenio Suárez blooped a base hit to put runners on first and second for Cal Raleigh, who took a hanging curveball from Edward Cabrera and deposited it in the right-field seats.
Cal Raleigh - Seattle Mariners (9)— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) June 14, 2023
Earlier today I watched Raleigh take BP and hit a long, deep drive just over the “76” sign into the ‘pen, only to be robbed of his batting practice home run by a perfectly-timed leap from the 49-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. Cal, who was mired in a tough stretch over the road trip, threw up his hands in exasperation at another well-hit ball finding a glove. He then proceeded to hit one into the second deck of the Hit It Here Café a few pitches later, so I think we can credit the Ichiro Effect on that homer from Cal. Seriously, though, Cal said postgame what has been bogging him down is thinking too much, effectively outsmarting himself as he tries to think like a catcher and a hitter at the same time.
“I think I started worrying too much about what the pitcher was doing and not enough about what works for me,” said Cal of his tough stretch. “My job is to go out there and be ready to hit every single time. Be ready for the fastball and just adjust to the off-speed.”
“Sometimes it’s the dumb hitters that are really good in this game, just because they’re always on the fastball. They’re always keeping it simple, which is a good thing.”
The Mariners would extend their lead against Cabrera in the fourth, when Jarred Kelenic walked, stole second, and took third on an errant throw from Marlins catcher Jacob Stallings. Mike Ford then said “hey, let me be a good teammate and save you the running” and put a ball over the fence to stretch the lead to 5-0.
The offensive effort was backed by a strong start from George Kirby, who had the Marlins hitters well in hand all night, racking up a new career-high 10 strikeouts. Maybe none was more impressive than his first strikeout on the night, to the first batter he faced, the impossible-to-strike-out Luis Arráez.
George Kirby's 2Ks in the 1st. pic.twitter.com/tkYLoXODAw— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 14, 2023
All game long, Kirby exploited the Marlins at the top of the zone, getting Marlins hitters to expand consistently chasing after the high strike. His two-seamer was up about a tick and a half, coming in just half a mile slower than his four-seam, and batters whiffed madly after both (35% and 40% CSW, respectively). The off-speed was sharp as well, with Kirby using the slider and curveball to set up strikeouts on the sinker (three of his 10 K) and four-seam (six of his 10 K). After a few weeks where it feels like other teams have been feasting on the fastballs thrown by Seattle’s fastball-heavy pitching staff, tonight was a welcome respite.
“I thought this combination of his pitches was the best we’ve seen at any point all season,” said Scott Servais postgame, praising Kirby’s willingness (and Cal’s game calling) to mix up his pitches a little more. A prime example of this is the way he pitched to Jorge Soler as the second batter of the inning, leading off with the slider for a called strike before throwing the curve for a swinging strike and then getting a groundout on a high-velocity sinker placed perfectly on the outer edge of the zone. Coming out of the postgame press conference I heard some Marlins players comparing notes on Kirby’s slider, specifically, noting they were surprised with its frequency and how good it was tonight.
Kirby would make it through the sixth inning, surrendering just one unearned run on a very dumb series of events where Garrett Hampson threw his bat at a slider and parachuted a ball into shallow right. Kirby was able to retire Arráez again thanks to a spectacular leaping play by J.P. Crawford, but then Jorge Soler ambushed a first-pitch curveball for a single to score Hampson. An Eugenio Suárez error would allow Bryan De La Cruz to reach on a slow roller, but Kirby buttoned up the inning, and his evening, by striking out Garrett Cooper.
George Kirby, 96mph ⛽️— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 14, 2023
10th K pic.twitter.com/nHgkNDAuuy
In the bottom of the sixth, the Mariners offense made sure Kirby would get a “W” by his name tonight by beating up on old “friend” Archie Bradley, who you last saw breaking his arm trying to get into the scrum against the Angels last June. Bradley had come in to work the fifth after the Mariners drove up Cabrera’s pitch count early, and the Marlins decided to try to get a second inning out of him. That plan did not go great! Bradley opened by walking Suárez and Raleigh and then Mike Ford committed a little BABIP crime of his own, floating a single at 67 mph off the bat into shallow right. That loaded the bases for José Caballero aka Death Cabby for Archie:
José Caballero, bases-clearing 3⃣ bagger with swagger... pic.twitter.com/6VhPlGkAda— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) June 14, 2023
With an 8-1 lead the Mariners turned it over to their lesser-leverage arms, getting in some work for Justin Topa, who pitched a scoreless inning, before handing things off to Chris Flexen. Flexen gave up a two-run home run to Garrett Cooper to bring the score to 8-3, but a Mike Ford solo shot off former Mariner JT Chargois pushed the lead back out to a more comfortable 9-3. This was Ford’s first multihomer game since his tenure with the Yankees back in 2019, and earned him (and Shannon) his very own postgame ice bucket drenching.
Tayler Saucedo came on to hang a zero and cap off a second straight solid night for the Mariners on both sides of the ball.
The Marlins have yet another talented arm on the mound tomorrow in the youngster Eury Pérez, and once again the Mariners hitters will need to find a way to stack some runs on the board for their starter. Last night it was the top of the lineup collecting hits and taking walks. Tonight it was the bottom half of the lineup driving the run production, with the top half of the lineup working counts but not necessarily doing things that show up big in the box score. However they go about it, that’s what this team needs to continue to do: keep the pressure on the starters they’re facing by stringing together productive, lengthy at-bats up and down the lineup.
“It does make a difference if multiple guys are doing it in your lineup,” said Servais about the team’s improved offensive approach. “Then you really have something going, and that’s what excites me as much as anything. We have multiple guys that have made some adjustments to shrink the zone. They’re doing the right things to put pressure on the pitcher all the time.”
“That’s what you need. You’re not going to do it every night, but it’s what you need to get on that roll again. And we’re capable of doing it.”