If Logan Gilbert was nervous about facing the Yankees and their collection of massive sluggers, he didn’t show it.
If Gilbert was apprehensive about giving up the hard contact and homers that his teammates endured in the previous two games of the series, he didn’t pitch like it.
And if the 24-year-old was even slightly proud of himself as he walked off the mound of T-Mobile Park following the third out of the seventh inning to a standing ovation from most of the crowd of 17,524, including a few Yankees fans, you wouldn’t have known it.
Gilbert’s poker, er, pitching face is a mixture of bemusement, boredom and being in line at the DMV.
Then again, given his laconic nature and stoic demeanor, Gilbert could be pitching to the ghost of Babe Ruth while standing on a mound surrounded by fire and cobras with a tornado bearing down on him from center field, and he’d probably look the same as he did throughout Thursday afternoon when he produced the best outing of his young big league career.
The rookie right-hander saved Seattle from being swept in the series with the Yankees, delivering a brilliant and dominant performance while leading the Mariners to a decisive 4-0 victory.
Gilbert tossed seven shutout innings, allowing one hit with no walks, a hit batter and a career-high eight strikeouts while retiring the last 18 batters he faced in order to improve to 4-3 on the season and lower his ERA to 3.51.
He is the second youngest player in team history to toss at least seven shutout innings and allow one hit. The only player younger was Felix Hernandez, who did it at age 21 vs. the Red Sox on April 11, 2007.
“The performance today by Logan Gilbert doesn’t get a whole lot better than that,” manager Scott Servais said. “Obviously that’s a very veteran club, and he came in and was just on the attack and was going to dominate the strike zone. It’s exactly what he did today.”
Gilbert didn’t seem the least bit impressed when the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez stepped into the box. He refused to be intimidated by their slugging presence, attacking them like the batboy was getting a chance to hit.
“Obviously they’re really good and they can swing it,” he said. “That’s what they do. They have really big guys in the lineup, and they hit home runs. I went into it saying: ‘If they hit it, if they hit home runs, that stuff will happen. I’m not going to beat myself. I don’t want to walk people. I want to fill up the zone. I want to go after them. I’m going to make them beat me.'”
Servais also referenced the pregame pitching meeting with pitching coach Pete Woodworth and catcher Tom Murphy.
“Intimidated is not anywhere in his vocabulary,” Servais said “I asked Woody how it went today, and he said: ‘I wish I could’ve recorded it. Every young pitcher should hear that. That’s how you need to go after that type of ballclub.’ He was going to be aggressive, and he went out and executed.“
Asked about his mound presence, Gilbert chuckled at something he’s clearly been asked about before.
“That’s just my personality, I guess,” he said. “Nothing really bothers me too much, and I try to stay the same even-keel out there no matter what happens. It’s easier said than done sometimes when things aren’t going well, but I feel like it helps me just maintain my focus throughout the game.”
With the Yankees rolling out a lineup of eight right-handed hitters, which somewhat limited the use of his vastly improved changeup, Gilbert turned to his four-seam fastball. He threw it early. He threw it often. He threw it to all quadrants of the strike zone.
Per MLB Statcast, Gilbert threw his four-seam fastball for 65 of his 103 pitches. It averaged 95.6 mph, hitting 98.6 mph twice. Of those 65 fastballs, he had seven swings and misses and nine called strikes. The Yankees fouled it off 19 times and put it in play 11 times.
Perhaps most important, he established the inside part of the plate to those Yankees hitters. He wasn’t afraid to throw inside and make hitters move their feet. When he hit Luke Voit on his right hand with a 96-mph fastball, it created traffic on the bases, but it also left Yankees hitters aware that Gilbert wasn’t intimidated by their size or power. Voit looked uncomfortable in his next two at-bats, striking out and flying out weakly to right.
“It sets up everything,” Servais said of establishing that inside strike. “Certainly a team like that with that kind of power. Judge, Stanton, Voit and Sanchez, those guys … like to get the ball out over the plate where they can get extended (with their arms). They’re used to playing in that small ballpark in New York. So once you can get the ball in on them, it opens up everything else.“
It’s not something that many rookie pitchers get comfortable doing in their first season. They tend to pitch away from hitters, trying to avoid contact. But Gilbert views it as a requirement.
“It’s just something that you have to be able to do, whether you’re comfortable with it or not,” he said. “If you’re going in, you’ve got to get inside. You don’t want to leave it over the plate. You don’t want to let them get extended. So you want to make sure you really get in there.”
And because Gilbert was willing to throw the fastball inside, it made his biting slider that much more effective. He threw 32 sliders and generated 11 swings and misses and two called strikes. Hitters fouled it off five times and put just three balls in play.
After seeing Justus Sheffield and Yusei Kikuchi get lit up in the first few innings, Gilbert set an early tone with a 1-2-3 first inning that required all of nine pitches. He was not going to pitch passively.
The Mariners provided him with a little run support early and a little late all via the home run.
Kyle Seager smashed a solo blast to center off Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery in the first inning for his 16th of the season, and Dylan Moore added a two-out, two-run homer in the second for an early 3-0 lead. Mitch Haniger provided a little cushion with a solo homer in the eighth inning — his 19th of the season.