The “hard lessons” learned in Major League Baseball, as labeled by manager Scott Servais, reached a point where the Mariners had to send rookie pitcher Matt Brash back to minor league baseball.
His latest outing, which lasted just two innings in a 7-2 loss to the Astros, provided another example of the talented right-hander being unable to harness his overpowering stuff, including a blazing fastball and wipeout breaking pitches.
Following an abysmal three-city road trip where they finished with a 2-7 record — the only two wins coming in games started by Logan Gilbert — the Mariners announced a slew of roster moves Thursday afternoon as they prepared to open a four-game series vs. the Tampa Bay Rays later that evening at T-Mobile Park.
The official roster moves:
- Right-handed pitcher Matt Brash optioned to Class AAA Tacoma (postgame May 4)
- Right-handed pitcher Matt Festa placed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow tendintiis (retroactive to May 4)
- Right-handed pitcher Riley O’Brien recalled from Class AAA Tacoma
- Left-handed pitcher Danny Young selected from Class AAA Tacoma
- Left-handed pitcher Nick Margevicius designated for assignment
- Right-handed pitcher Matt Koch has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Tacoma
“I talked to Matt (Brash) last night when we got back into town,” Servais said. “I just think he needs a reset. He certainly had a fantastic spring training, earned the right to be our fifth starter. He had some bright moments. He had some darker moments.”
Who will take Brash’s spot in the starting rotation? He was scheduled to start Monday vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at T-Mobile Park. It’s likely that is a roster move yet to be made with the Mariners utilizing Brash’s roster spot for an extra reliever until Monday.
“We’ve got some ideas,” Servais said. “We don’t have to make that call today. So we’ll do that here in the next few days.”
The popular choice would be top pitching prospect George Kirby, who has been outstanding with Class AA Arkansas since losing the competition with Brash in spring training for the last rotation spot.
In five starts with the Travelers, Kirby is 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA. In 24 2/3 innings, Kirby has struck out 32 batters with only five walks. He is scheduled to pitch for Arkansas on Sunday, but the Mariners could have him throw a bullpen session on Friday and have him ready to pitch for Monday on extra rest.
The Mariners expected Kirby would debut at some point this season. The biggest issue is his innings total. Having thrown just under 70 innings last season, the Mariners aren’t likely have Kirby pitch more than 100-110 innings this season. It’s much easier to control that usage at the minor league level where game outcomes are secondary to development. But there is little doubt that he is the most talented starting pitcher in the organization and best equipped of the prospects to face a big league lineup.
It appears that Brash won’t be earning back his spot in the rotation. He will start transitioning to a relief role with the Rainiers.
“It’s an opportunity to get him on the mound more frequently,” Servais said. “A chance to get more work in for him and maybe a chance to impact us in a different role here as we go on later in our season.”
Servais compared the process to what the Mariners did with Edwin Diaz during the 2017 season. Diaz had never pitched above the Class AA level at the time.
While many opposing scouts believed Brash would eventually end up in the bullpen, it was a puzzling move to them for it to happen after just five starts.
“It seems premature,” said an AL scout.
The move isn’t necessarily permanent. It’s about trying to find value this season with the focus on winning instead of development.
“In the past, it was a little bit more looking out into the future,” Servais said. “We’re at a point where we’re really competing and fighting for a playoff spot, which is where we hope to be this year. I think he can help us out of the bullpen more than he could as a starter.”
In five starts, Brash posted a 1-3 record with a 7.65 ERA with 19 strikeouts and 17 walks in 20 innings. After looking dominant in spring training and outdueling Kirby to win the fifth spot in the opening-day starting rotation, Brash looked solid in his MLB debut. Facing the White Sox in Chicago, he pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
He earned his first MLB win in his second start against the Astros at T-Mobile Park despite walking six batters in 5 1/3 innings. He allowed just two runs on two hits with five strikeouts.
But the Astros provided the game plan to beating Brash — stay away from all breaking pitches since they were diving out of the strike zones and force him to throw fastballs for strikes once he fell behind in counts.
Over his next three starts, Brash went 0-2 with a 12.54 ERA, allowing 13 runs on 18 hits in 9 1/3 innings. He walked 10 batters and struck out only eight.
“That’s been probably one of my biggest issues — just not enough strikes to get chases,” Brash said. “So when they see spin, they’re just taking it because they know I’m not landing it for the majority of the time.”
Per MLB Statcast data, Brash has thrown 314 pitches this season with 55.1% considered breaking pitches (107 sliders, 66 curveballs). Of those 173 breaking pitches, 66.1% were considered out of the strike zone and 38.1% of those 173 pitches were called balls. Over his last three starts, Brash has thrown 144 pitches with 83 breaking balls. Of those 83 breaking balls, 47 were considered out of the strike zone with 34 called balls.
“It really comes back to command,” Servais said. “The stuff is certainly capable of getting major league hitters out. We’ve seen it when it’s on, but you gotta throw strikes. You gotta throw them consistently and then be able to make adjustments quickly. That’s kind of what he struggled with.”
The Mariners thought Brash might be tipping his pitches in his outing in Miami with hitters not chasing pitches that should’ve generated swings. They changed his setup position while throwing with runners on base.
“It was to hopefully hide the ball a little better,” Brash said after Wednesday’s game. “Just watching the video and stuff, it looked like I was tipping pitches. I was showing the (pitch grip) to the runners on second. I just want to have my hands a little lower to hide the ball a little better. I worked on it this week.”
O’Brien, 27, was acquired from the Reds in a trade for a player to be named later or cash considerations. A Seattle native and standout at Shorewood High School, O’Brien has made five relief appearances for Class AAA Tacoma, posting a 1-1 record and a 1.59 ERA.