GLENDALE, Ariz. — As if the stacked White Sox lineup he faced in his first start of the spring didn’t offer an indication that he was back competing at baseball’s highest level and no longer pitching in Korea, Chris Flexen got another unexpected “welcome back” gift in the first inning.
After getting former American League batting champion Tim Anderson to ground out for the first out of the game, Flexen left a fastball over the outside half of the plate to the power-hitting Luis Robert. The hulking slugger hit a rocket right back at Flexen, who instinctively snared the ball before it struck him. The shot had an exit velocity of 104 mph.
“That was hit pretty well,” Flexen said with a laugh. “I was fortunate to make a sweet play on it. It was all reaction. I stuck the glove right up to the spot and it went right in.”
Flexen’s increased heart rate didn’t have any time to go down with Jose Abreu, the reigning American League MVP, stepping to the plate. Flexen got the big first baseman to fly out to deep left-center for a 1-2-3 first inning.
“For me in spring training, my focus was to attack those guys and challenge them with my best stuff,” he said. “I know it’s gonna be a long season facing those guys, but I look forward to it.”
His second inning wasn’t quite as smooth. He gave up a bloop single Eloy Jimenez, walked Yoan Moncada and surrendered an RBI single to Andrew Vaughn. He came back to strike out Adam Eaton and Danny Mendick. But a throwing error by Cal Raleigh on a stolen-base attempt allowed another run to score. Flexen struck out Seby Zavala to end the inning and his outing.
“I really liked what I saw,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He does it a little bit differently. He’s got the higher arm slot. We saw all four pitches today. Maybe not as good as command as he’d like to have with the secondary pitches, but I really liked how he threw the ball. First time seeing a guy, you never really know how it’s gonna look, but I liked what I saw.”
Flexen was happy Servais let him work out of the mess instead of ending the inning early.
“It’s very important,” he said. “You’re trying to challenge yourself to see where you’re at. I’d fallen behind in that inning early on. I was just trying to get into damage control. I thought I executed pretty decent after that with the fastball again. I just wasn’t able to command the off-speed. But it’s nice to be able to work through those situations early on.”
Logan Gilbert gets a start
Top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert will see his first game action of the spring when he gets the start against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, in Tempe. With Gilbert expected to start the season in the minor leagues, which won’t officially begin until the first week of May, the Mariners weren’t in any rush to get him into Cactus League games.
It was technically Marco Gonzales’ turn in the Mariners’ spring rotation, but the team opted to have him pitch in a B game or simulated game in Peoria instead of allowing their American League West rival get to see him for four innings.
Gilbert, who turns 24 on May 5, is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Mariners organization by Baseball America, sitting behind Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic. Baseball America had him as the No. 35 in its Top 100 prospects in baseball.
Projected closer Rafael Montero and setup reliever Brandon Brennan threw live batting practice sessions during the morning workouts. Montero was a late arrival due to work-visa issues while Brennan was delayed in his throwing program due to a minor injury.
Shed Long Jr. hit a laser of an opposite-field homer off Montero during the session. Long has yet to play in games this spring as he’s still dealing with some residual pain in his recovery from offseason shin surgery. He hopes to play sometime next week.
Catcher Luis Torrens is expected to get a game at designated hitter on Saturday or Sunday. He injured the middle finger on his throwing hand when it got smashed in the weight room.