When Justus Sheffield was told he was being demoted to Double A Arkansas in mid-June of last season, following serious struggles in his starts with AAA Tacoma, Justin Dunn was one of the first people to know about it. Since both were traded to the Mariners in the winter before the 2019 season, the two had grown from acquaintances to close friends.
And Dunn was going to make sure he would do everything in his power to help Sheffield right himself and return to the trajectory to the big leagues.
When Dunn struggled with his command and emotions in his MLB debut, Sheffield was one of the first players to meet him in the dugout to let him know that there was another start in five days.
On Thursday, the duo squared off as opposing pitchers for a second time in the Mariners summer camp intrasquad games. They’ll likely do so again on Wednesday in their final tuneup before the 2020 regular season as the No. 5 and 6 pitchers in Seattle’s six-man starting rotation.
Showing an improved feel of his changeup and breaking pitches, Dunn pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits with a walk and five strikeouts. After a shaky first inning where he didn’t record three outs before reaching his pitch limit, Dunn struck out the side – J.P. Crawford, Sam Haggerty and Cal Raleigh – all swinging and on breaking balls.
“The breaking ball command was a little shaky last week which I wasn’t too happy about,” Dunn said. “It’s something I take pride in, being able to spin the ball when I want to.”
Sheffield had a similar outing, but did give up the game’s only run, surrendering a leadoff double to Braden Bishop and a RBI single to left from Austin Nola. But he settled in, showing improved command with his new two-seam fastball, elevating for the four-seam fastball for swings and misses and using the slider as a put-away pitch.
“I felt really good today,” he said. “The more I got into the game, I felt I was getting stronger. From the jump, I wanted to get inside on batters and I was happy to see my slider was able to put away some guys.”
That the Mariners have kept Sheffield and Dunn close in the rotation isn’t by accident. They understand the relationship those two have developed. They knew that when they sent Sheffield to Arkansas that the analytical Dunn would be helpful in finding his friend’s calm and confidence on the mound.
While they interact and try to learn from the veteran-laded rotation, the two 24-year-olds still rely on each other heavily when it comes to almost every aspect of their professional and personal lives.
“We talk every day, every day about pitching, every day about our outings,” Sheffield said. “We’ve talked about feeding off each other in the past. We are the youngest two pitchers on the team, so we still have a lot of to learn, especially from the guys in front of us. We can learn from those guys, but I feel like we can benefit the most is from feeding off each other, helping each other out because he really understands my mechanics and I understand his mechanics.
“ When he’s off, I can tell when he’s off and get him back on track and vice versa. As long as we keep going and pushing each other, I feel like we are going to be pretty good in the future.”
Servais is forcing a mandatory day off on Friday for all players, coaches and staff after 13 consecutive days of workouts at T-Mobile Park.
“I think the timing of the off day is perfect,” Servais said. “These guys have been really getting after it.”
That means if Yusei Kikuchi wants to play catch, which he prefers to do every day, he’ll have to find a park to do so.
The players will return to workouts and instrasquad games on Saturday. In an effort to get used to the myriad of night games being played during the regular season to optimize television viewership, the intrasquad games from Saturday through Wednesday are all expected to start at 6:10 p.m. The Mariners confirmed that Saturday’s game will be streamed on their YouTube page.
There is a hope that Root Sports may televise a game or two next week in preparation for the opening homestand on July 31 vs. the A’s.
With Dee Gordon absent for a second straight day for reasons the Mariners cannot discuss, the Mariners didn’t want to have a player from the morning group have two workouts in the day. But they needed someone to stand in left field for the Steelheads team. Instead of having minor-league coach Louis Boyd fill the void, Servais decided to have a little fun and put traveling secretary Jack Mosimann in uniform to play left field. Mosimann, who stands about 5-8 and 130 pounds in uniform (and with weights in his rave green soccer cleats) looked more batboy than ball player.
He didn’t bat in the game and didn’t have many balls hit his way. He did make an interesting if not coordinated diving attempt at a fly ball hit into the left-field corner. That was when Sheffield, who was pitching for the Steelheads, first noticed that the guy in left was the guy that also sets up their travel and handles ticket requests.
“I saw him in the dugout before the game and I was wondering why he was in uniform and thinking he was just going to be the bat boy,” Sheffield said. “Then that fly ball goes out to left and I was like, ‘I’m thinking (left fielder) is going to get it,’ and then I looked a little closer, and I was like, ‘Who is that?’ And it ended up being Jack. Then he actually dove for it, which made it priceless.”