A week ago, Chris Flexen suffered through the sort of outing that got him exiled to a season of pitching in Korea.
His stuff was flat, his command was nonexistent and the results were abysmal. The Padres rocked him for eight runs on 10 hits in just 1 2/3 innings. It was his worst outing in his first season in a Mariners uniform.
He was angry and embarrassed. His frustration could be felt through the video screen without even saying a word. When he did speak, the tone of his voice was pure disgust, mostly with himself, his performance and a 16-1 loss.
His words reflected his mood.
“I threw a lot of (expletive) pitches over the middle of the plate and I got hammered,” he hissed. “And that’s what they’re supposed to do with those kind of pitches. I really screwed the bullpen and didn’t do my job very well today.”
But the beauty of baseball is there almost always another game and another opportunity to right the past wrongs or at least a chance to help yourself forget.
For Flexen, it came six days later on a chilly Thursday night at T-Mobile Park vs. the Rangers.
And this time, he did his job something better than well. He was outstanding in the Mariners’ comfortable 5-0 win over Texas to open a seven-game homestand.
Flexen delivered his best outing as a member of the Mariners, pitching seven shutout innings while allowing just three hits with a walk and six strikeouts to pick up his fifth win of the season (5-2) and help the Mariners improve to 24-27 on the season.
“I thought that was probably the best game of the year that Chris Flexen has had,” manager Scott Servais said. “I thought that was the best cutter he’s had. He located the fastball at the top of the zone. The changeup was really a big pitch for him tonight and very efficient. He gave us seven shutout innings tonight and was completely in control of that game. Awesome outing by him.”
When told that very few of his pitches vs. the Rangers matched that his previous of description of animal excrement, Flexen smiled and chuckled at his previous anger. It was easy to do after this outing.
“Tonight was a good one,” he said. “I definitely was able to execute and I thought Murph (Tom Murphy) did a hell of a job back there. We were able to mix in/out and up/down and offspeed/hard.”
He was everything that he wasn’t in that last start — efficient, aggressive early in counts, pinpoint with his command and effective in all aspects.
“He was certainly disappointed and frustrated with his last outing,” Servais said. “He got banged around pretty good, obviously by a very good team, but he came in tonight, very focused, was really going to get after it with the cutter. It was a successful pitch.”
He fired first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 24 batters he faced. And when he didn’t throw a strike on the first pitch, he came back with one immediately.
Flexen allowed only four balls in play with exit velocities over 100 mph in the outing while his cutter and changeup had average exit velocities under 90 mph. Of his 87 pitches thrown, he threw 60 strikes with 12 swings and misses and 15 called strikes.
His teammates provided him with requisite, but minimal run support early in the game.
Facing lefty Kolby Allard, Murphy and Jacob Nottingham smashed back-to-back solo home runs to give Seattle a 2-0 lead.
Murphy crushed a 1-2 fastball off the digital scoreboard in left-center for his fifth homer of the season.
Despite hitting a homer, adding a walk and a single and scoring two runs, Murphy took more joy from Flexen’s bounceback outing.
“That was really special for Flex,” he said. “As a catcher that’s the type of outing you always dream of … when you have four pitches and you’re able to command the ball the way he can, it can make a really fun game behind the plate and that’s what I enjoy the most as a catcher.”
Nottingham had a towering blast down the left field line that bounced off the foul pole.
It was the first time the Mariners have hit back to back homers this season. The last time they did that was on Aug. 17, 2020 at Dodger Stadium (Kyle Lewis and Kyle Seager). The last time they hit back-to-back homers at T-Mobile Park was on June 19, 2019 (Domingo Santana and Daniel Vogelbach)
It was the only two hits Seattle registered over the first six innings.
But in the seventh, facing lefty Taylor Hearn, Ty France led off with a single, Murphy added a one-out single and Nottingham walked to load the bases. Texas went to right-handed reliever Brett Martin to try and quash the rally.
Jack Mayfield greeted him with a double off the wall in left-center to score two runs and push the lead to 4-0. Mitch Haniger added an RBI single in the inning.
The trio of Murphy, Nottingham and Mayfield accounted for four hits, two homers, four runs scored and four RBI.
“We’ve talked about it for the first six to seven weeks of the season of having the bottom of the lineup create some traffic and create some opportunities for us,” Servais said. “And those guys carried us tonight.”
The Mariners got scoreless relief innings from Rafael Montero and Keynan Middleton to close out their fourth shutout of the season. They are now 20-8 when scoring four-plus runs in a game.