GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Can off-speed pitches be in the best shapes of their lives?

Maybe the shape of a pitch, which is one of the new emphases in pitching circles, can’t fall into the oft-used spring training story lines for players.

For Logan Gilbert and the Mariners, his slider, curveball and change-up, the focus of hours upon hours of offseason work, sure felt and looked that way in his first start of this shortened spring training.

The lanky right-hander looked dominant in his first outing Thursday, pitching three innings and allowing one run on one hit with a walk and six strikeouts.

Mariners manager Scott Servais labeled the outing “super impressive.”

Gilbert’s fastball hit 97 mph multiple times, but it was those breaking pitches, including a hard slider, that had Servais and the rest staff giddy.

“It was awesome to see that kind of stuff the first time out,” he said. “I never thought I’d see him throwing an 89-90 mph slider based on what we saw when he first got to the big leagues.”

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A year ago, Gilbert was dealing with some shoulder inflammation after one Cactus League outing and was preparing to start a delayed minor league season with Class AAA Tacoma before making his big-league debut.

Now he’s penciled into the starting rotation after a solid rookie season where he posted a 6-5 record with a 4.68 ERA in 24 starts, including 128 strikeouts and 28 walks in 119 1/3 innings.

As he navigated his way through the grind of his first MLB season, the ultra-cerebral Gilbert analyzed his stuff vs. the best hitters in the world, dissected his outings and came to some revelations that the shape, locations and purpose of his off-speed pitches needed to improve for the success he desired.

“It’s tough to do during the season,” he said. “You might be able to pick one thing to work on. The slider adjustment started last season.”

The offseason was going to be all about the off-speed pitches.

“I knew what I wanted to do,” he said. “When my curve is at its best, I can use it a lot. Same with the slider. But I wasn’t in that position last year. That was going to be a focus this offseason, as well as the change-up.”

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Gilbert went to work, throwing off the mound more than he ever has this offseason. He threw a bullpen session once a week at his alma mater Stetson University. There were times he would see fellow alum Jacob deGrom throwing bullpens as well. An admitted nerd when it comes to all things pitching, Gilbert tried to watch everything deGrom did on the mound and finally had a few conversations with the winner of multiple NL Cy Young Awards.

“I was just trying to learn as much as possible,” Gilbert said. “He just kind of goes about his business and it’s effortless for him. But I just tried to watch and see what he does. He throws everything to the glove side. That’s a focus for him. I’m trying to incorporate that more in practice and bullpens.”

Why is that important?

“Everything is in that one lane,” Gilbert said. “We both stand on the first base side (of the pitching rubber), so everything’s in the glove-side lane, which is the hardest thing to do with the extension out front. So if you can do that, you can go to any side of the plate.”

During his throwing sessions, Gilbert experimented with a cut fastball and instead found his slider.

“That didn’t work out great,” he said of the cutter. “But I actually used that grip and morphed it into my harder slider. It’s just holding it like a fastball and thinking fastball. In the past, I tried to manipulate things so much. It comes out better and feels better when I think fastball.”

Gilbert is also taking a “simpler” approach to his curveball, while also throwing it harder.

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So what the goal for those pitches in terms of velocity, movement and intent?

“From what I’ve seen lately, I like the slider to be around 89 mph, the curve around 83 mph, and the change-up in the mid-80s,” he said. “I was around there today. It just helps — everything’s a little tighter, a little sharper. I don’t really want huge movement. I want enough movement. Of course, the curveball will have the most, but everything just coming out like a fastball.”

Having every pitch look the same coming out of a pitcher’s hand has been labeled “tunneling” in baseball speak. It makes it more difficult to differentiate pitches.

“It’s the separator,” Servais said.

The swings and misses on the sliders spoke to that tunneling effect.

“I want that to play off the fastball the best because teams know I throw my fastball a lot,” Gilbert said. “I threw some good ones today that probably looked like a fastball until the last second. That’s the idea. They’re not all like that, but that’s the idea to get it going that way.”

After issuing a one-out walk to Andres Gimenez in the first inning, Gilbert found himself facing Jose Ramirez with a runner on third base. Gimenez stole second and advanced to third base on Tom Murphy’s throwing error. But Gilbert calmly got Ramirez to pop out to third base and struck out Franmil Reyes to end the inning.

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After striking out the first two batters of the second inning, Gilbert left a first-pitch fastball on the inside half to left-handed swinging Daniel Johnson, who jumped on it for a solo homer to right field.

Gilbert came back to strikeout Oscar Mercado swinging on a perfectly placed slider.

The third inning was more of the same. Gilbert ended a lengthy at-bat with lefty-swinging Sandy Leon, throwing a perfect 3-2 change-up that seemed to disappear when it neared home plate. That was followed by a quick strikeout of Myles Straw on another slider. Gilbert ended his outing with a bit of a break. He left a slider over the middle of the plate, but Gimenez didn’t capitalize on it, lifting a fly ball to the warning track in right field for the third out.

Notes

  • Evan White tweaked his surgically repaired hip during Thursday’s game and was removed in the final inning. He was noticeably laboring to run the bases in the eighth inning. White said, “We’ll see” when asked about the hip.
  • The Mariners announced the signing of reliever Sergio Romo to a one-year contract. He took his physical Thursday morning and started meeting teammates in the afternoon.