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Weak Grounder of the Week: Chris Flexen plays his part

The Arraez and fall of a great pure hitter

Miami Marlins v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Luis Arraez is chasing .400. Or at least, he was and he is again. But for a minute, it looked like a pipe dream. He came into Seattle last Monday batting .397 and getting fawning coverage about his first 60 games. But the Mariners put up a major roadblock for the Marlins’ second baseman, holding him hitless for the entire three-game series and dropping his batting average 21 points. For context on that accomplishment, here’s a list of all of Luis Arraez’s other streaks of multiple hitless games this season:

  • April 4-5, when the Twins held him 0 for 2 with a walk on the 4th and then struck him out in his lone PA, as a pinch hitter, the next day;
  • May 10 & 12, when the Diamondbacks held him 0 for 3 in the last game of their series and the Reds 0 for 4 in the first game of theirs;
  • End of list.

The Mariners are the only team in baseball to hold him hitless in back-to-back starts all season, much less three in a row.

And they didn’t do it by just avoiding him either. The Mariners attacked Arraez relentlessly, only walking him once, with one HBP over his 14 PAs. Nor did the Mariners’ hurlers simply luck into it the result. Arraez’s expected batting average for the series was just .216, the lowest xBA any team has held him to all year by a decent margin.

As such a feat would have to be, it was a team effort. Eight pitchers faced him over the three games, and none of them allowed a hit. George Kirby got him three times, including a strikeout; Ty Adcock induced a weak ground ball from Arraez as part of his two-inning MLB debut; and Luis Castillo, on a night where he had nearly career-worst command, nonetheless dotted up Arraez on the corner for a called strike three.

But the most emblematic, and thus, your Play of the Week, was Chris Flexen, who got this dribbler to J.P. Crawford in Game 2:

It’s nice to see him get Play of the Week because ever since being pulled out of the rotation upon Castillo’s arrival last July, Flexen hasn’t had a flagship role on this team. They gave him a shot at starting when Robbie Ray first went on the Injured List in April, but he faltered, quickly ceding his spot to Bryce Miller. He wasn’t even given a chance over an exceptionally green Bryan Woo. Instead, he’s settled in as the mop-up man, the least sexy spot on the 26-man roster. But Flexen has never betrayed a whiff of complaint, dutifully pitching through garbage time week after week.

So to see him in the game at all on Tuesday was, if you’ll forgive the pun, a bit of a flex from Scott Servais. With the Mariners up 8 to 1, sending out the guy who’s normally the equivalent of a human white flag was a real message that Scott Servais didn’t think the Marlins were a serious threat. Watching Flexen shut down the best pure hitter in the league on a fabulous cutter at the top of the zone was proof that Scott was right.

The very next game after the series ended, Arraez went 5 for 5 against the Nationals. And he went 5 for 5 again yesterday, bringing his average back up to a clean .400 on the year. So he may yet etch his name into the history books. But that only underlines what the Mariners did. If Arraez gets the modern record, it’ll be on the backs of the rest of the League’s pitching because the Mariners reeled in this Marlin.

Honorable Mentions

Miller Levels Up

The story on Bryce Miller is his sensational four-seamer. It’s what got him to the show and it’s why you tune in to watch. But when he has confidence in his secondaries, you start to imagine a future ace. This is what his final frame looked like on Monday, finishing the game with a 1-2-3 inning against the top of the Marlins’ lineup, throwing nearly as many sliders as fastballs, finishing on this beauty for a called third strike:

Ty and Geno Tag Team

I adore the symmetry of Ty France and Eugenio Suárez both hitting 420-foot home runs in the same game. The Mariners corner infielders have pretty dissimilar profiles as hitters, but something about their positive natures makes them feel like two peas in a pod.

Jarred Goes For It

Jarred looked really mad at himself about this, so I want to make it clear that I support what he was doing here. He charges like he’s going to dive for the ball but then realizes he has zero shot and has to adjust. But because he’d overcommitted, he isn’t able to handle the perfectly ordinary hop. That let the ball get past him and let Gurriel take second base. But I understand what he was trying to do, given the context: George Kirby had taken a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Making the adjustment too late cost the Mariners a base, but it only cost them a base. With the M’s up 5-0, it was worth the risk. Every no-hitter lives on some spectacular play, and, off the bat, this really might have been that play for Kirby. There’s no question that Jarred misplayed this, but given the game situation, this approach was the right call. Yes, I am giving Jarred an honorable mention for a misplay. Do not attack me for presenting new ideas.

Cabby Clears the Bases

This hit shouldn’t have felt as cathartic as it did, but the Mariners have had a really hard time cashing in runners this year: Seattle’s record is three games below their Base Runs record, which tries to strip out sequencing luck and normalizes LOB rates. So every time they score when the bases are loaded it feels like a minor miracle. That this one came off Archie Bradley, the biggest boob of last years’ brawl, made it all the sweeter.

Jarred Clears the Bases

Did my inclusion of his error deke you into thinking I’d leave out Jarred Kelenic hitting his own bases-clearing triple, on an opposite-field line drive in a big spot?

J.P. Salutes the Steelheads

The first time J.P. Crawford wore the Steelheads uniforms was 2021, the first year Juneteenth was observed as a federal holiday. J.P. celebrated by hitting his first career grand slam. As we covered in an earlier Play of the Week, he told the AP after the game, “It hit me a little differently today with everything going on with Juneteenth and wearing those jerseys. It was just so special to me.” After the game, he took that jersey home and framed it. I wonder if he did the same with the 2023 one after homering on Lucas Giolito’s first pitch.