The learning process for Logan Gilbert in his rookie season has been filled with lessons, reminders and teachable moments.
But one underlying theme has emerged from his May 12 debut and carried into his latest start Sunday afternoon vs. the Blue Jays: His mid-90s fastball is his best pitch and the key to his success but finding consistency and confidence with his slider, changeup and curveball will ultimately make him successful at the MLB level.
“It’s a very common theme,” manager Scott Servais said.
In the Mariners’ 8-3 loss to Toronto in the series and homestand finale, the lanky right-hander learned that Toronto’s collection of mashers can most certainly hit fastballs quite hard, particularly when there is minimal fear of off-speed pitches beating them.
“It happens,” Servais said. “Logan continues to learn. I did think he had a good fastball early in the game, but you’ve got to have that other pitch to go along with it to slow them down a little bit. He just wasn’t able to find that early in the ballgame today.”
Gilbert pitched four innings, allowing five runs on eight hits, including two doubles and two homers, with no walks and three strikeouts to take the loss.
The five runs allowed are a season-high for Gilbert. It also was the first time a Mariners starting pitcher allowed more than three runs since July 31.
It was his shortest outing since lasting 2 2/3 innings vs. the A’s on July 26. Of his 16 starts, this was the sixth that went four innings or fewer. One of those starts ended prematurely because of a rain delay and three were in his first three starts of his MLB career when the Mariners were monitoring his pitch counts closely.
The Mariners fell to 63-56 on the season and finished the homestand with a 4-2 record. In an example of how difficult it can be to make up ground, they sit 5.5 games back for the second wild card, currently held by the Red Sox, which is where they were when they started this homestand. They also trail the Yankees by three games and Blue Jays by a game.
Seattle will open an eight-game, three-city road trip Tuesday at GlobeLife Park with a three-game series vs. the Rangers.
After a quick 1-2-3 top of the first, including a dominating strikeout of Bo Bichette, Gilbert was given a 1-0 lead by his teammates.
J.P. Crawford led off with an infield single, advanced to second on Kyle Seager’s two-out walk, moved to third on a wild pitch from Toronto starter Stephen Matz and scored on a passed ball from catcher Alejandro Kirk.
But Gilbert delivered anything but a shut-down inning in the second.
With the command of his secondary pitches a little shaky and relying heavily on his fastball, Gilbert saw what good teams can do to pitchers when they eliminate off-speed pitches.
After getting up 0-2 on fastballs, Gilbert tried to put away Teoscar Hernandez — the first batter of the inning — to chase at a pair of sliders that were not enticing to swing at. He came back with a 95-mph fastball on a 2-2 count. The pitch stayed over the middle of the plate, and Hernandez crushed the missed location, sending a solo blast deep into the Mariners’ bullpen area to tie the game at 1-1.
Later with one out and Corey Dickerson on first base, Gilbert fell behind 2-0 to Randal Grichuk. Knowing Gilbert had barely used his off-speed pitches to that point in the game, Grichuk went looking for a fastball in the hitters count and got it, sending a two-run blast over the wall in left field that made it 3-1.
“Not as sharp as we’ve seen Logan,” Servais said. “He continues to make a few adjustments with his slider and his other offspeed pitches, just not as consistent as he would like them to be or they will be. They’re going to be really good. But today, they were on the heater, and he couldn’t get them off it by throwing enough sliders for strikes early in counts or putting them away with it.”
The interminable second inning came to an end two batters later when Santiago Espinal popped up to shortstop. It was Gilbert’s 36th pitch of the inning. In the first two innings, he’d thrown 50 pitches with 37 fastballs, 10 sliders, three curveballs and no change-ups.
“We didn’t want him to go over 40 pitches for sure in that inning,” Servais said. “We had guys moving around down there (in the bullpen). We’ve got to be careful, no doubt. But he was throwing strikes, (but) for the most part just wasn’t able to finish off hitters.”
Toronto pushed the lead to 5-1 in the third inning. With two outs and runners on first and third, Alejandro Kirk worked a 3-1 count, not chasing at the two sliders and curveball that Gilbert had offered while fouling off a fastball. Gilbert fired a fastball on the hitters count to the inside of the plate, but the boxy Kirk, who is listed at 5-8 and 265 pounds, yanked the ball down the third-base line past a diving Kyle Seager for a two-run double and a four-run lead.
Focusing on throwing offspeed pitches more, Gilbert gave the Mariners one more inning of work, allowing a hit and needing a brilliant diving catch from Dylan Moore in left field to not allow a run in the frame.
“They’d scored a lot of runs already, and I didn’t do a great job keeping the team in the game up to that point,” he said. “But I was just trying to grow through it with something to be taken into the next outing. I tried to fill it up with sliders, mix it up with a curve or a changeup. It was just finding other pitches to throw in the zone consistently and building that confidence.”
His outing was finished at 88 pitches. Of the 88 pitches, Gilbert threw 56 fastballs, 23 sliders, six curveballs and three change-ups. The Blue Jays fouled off 19 fastballs in his outing. Of the balls put in play by the Blue Jays, seven of them had exit velocities of 95 mph or higher, five of those coming off his fastballs.
After picking up the unearned run off Matz in the first inning, the Mariners mustered little more than a few base runners the rest of the way against the veteran lefty.
The Mariners did cut the lead to 7-3 in the eighth inning when Kyle Seager hit a two-run homer into the seats in right-center off right-hander Adam Cimber. It was his 26th homer of the season.