TEMPE, Ariz. — Not many pitchers look forward to facing Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in any circumstance, but for Logan Gilbert it meant a hopeful glimpse of battles yet to come in his near future.
The Mariners’ top pitching prospect made his much-awaited first start of the Cactus League on Sunday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, facing the Angels, who rolled out a lineup that was quite similar to their everyday lineup with David Fletcher leading off, Trout batting second, Ohtani batting third, Albert Pujols in the cleanup spot, Justin Upton batting fifth and Dexter Fowler batting sixth.
Gilbert worked two innings, allowing a run on two hits with four strikeouts.
He opened his first start with a swinging strikeout of Fletcher, which brought Trout, the perennial favorite for AL MVP, to the plate.
Gilbert showed no fear, attacking Trout and trying to get ahead. With the count eventually at 3-2, he froze Trout with a fastball on the outside corner.
“That was pretty cool,” Gilbert said. “He’s probably the best player in baseball. There’s not a better feeling. It was probably the highlight of the day. I feel like he was looking for an off-speed pitch there.”
It impressed Seattle manager Scott Servais.
“That doesn’t happen too often where Mike Trout takes a fastball 3-2,” Servais said. “I’m really excited about Logan and his mound presence. He didn’t back down there. It was, ‘Here it is, I’m going to go after you and I’m going to show you that I’m going to be around here for a while.’ It’s a good start for him. It’s just a couple-inning outing but a perfect way for him to get the ball rolling during this spring.”
Gilbert then got Ohtani to roll over on a breaking ball for a weak ground ball to second base.
The second inning wasn’t quite a smooth. Pujols led off with a double to left-center and Upton muscled a well-executed pitch just inside the right-field line for a bloop double and a RBI. But Gilbert came back to strike out Fowler with an elevated fastball and coax an easy fly out to center from Jose Iglesias. With two outs, he struck out Taylor Ward looking.
“I felt pretty comfortable out there and felt confident,” Gilbert said. “It’s definitely different with who’s in the lineup and who I’m facing. But it’s still baseball as usual.”
Gilbert didn’t quite have perfect command of his curveball and used his much-improved changeup sparingly but there are more starts ahead for him, including future starts against the Angels at the big-league level.
“I hopefully plan on facing those guys a lot over the next few years, or whatever it may be,” he said.
But when that MLB debut comes is uncertain. At this point, he seems unlikely to make the rotation out of spring. But with the minor-league season being delayed until May 6, it is a little uncertain how he will stay prepared.
“I’m just going to try to get ready as usual, whatever it may be, or how the season shapes up to be,” he said. “I planned on pitching from now until September, October anyway so it doesn’t really change too much what I’m going to do.”
Servais said Gilbert is getting closer to being a finished product as a prospect and transition into a big-league starter.
“Certainly last year did him no favors and the fact that he wasn’t able to pitch in a competitive game,” Servais said of the minor-league shutdown in 2020. “He is close. There is a super, super high ceiling for this kid. He’s gonna be a big part of our rotation here for a long, long time. The fact that he didn’t throw any innings last year, we need to be very cautious. We’ve talked with him. It’s really important how he ends the season, in my opinion. Hopefully, he’s got some gas in the tank when we get into August and September. Knowing that ahead of time, we have to be careful on how much workload we put on him early in the season. That’s why we’ll have him really spread out in spring training. Once the season gets going, we’ll be careful with how much we ramp him up early.”
Early morning treatment = early return from injury?
On most days, Servais likes to arrive at the team complex in Peoria with sun just starting to break the darkness. It’s usually before any of his players make an appearance. But Sunday morning, he arrived to find Jarred Kelenic already there and receiving treatment for the strained adductor muscle in his left leg.
“He was the only player here ahead of me today,” Servais said. “He’s been in the training room, being very diligent and staying on top of what they’re asking him to do there. We’ll give it a few days to calm down and then I’m sure he’ll get after it as quick as he can, but we need to be patient with this one. I know he wants to get out there as quick as he can and we’re not going to slow him down by any means. I know he’ll be the first one here every day because he wants to get back on the field as quick as you can.”
Kelenic said via message that he plans to be back in seven days. And while the Mariners haven’t released a timeline for his return, the usual recovery is at least two weeks. Servais said he knows there’s a fine line between pushing the rehab and recovery to get back earlier than expected and rushing back, not letting an injury properly heal and a subsequent setback or lingering damage from the injury.
“For me, I really trust our medical group, our doctors, our trainers, our strength coaches and I take their lead,” Servais said. “When they tell me that he’s good, or right at 100% or close to it, then we’ll run him back out there. I’ve also over the years realized that you need to trust players as well, and trust what they’re saying. Guys are really in tune to their bodies as Jarred is, but at the end of the day, I trust our medical group and they will let me know when he’s ready.”
Throw it back to 2001
With the Mariners traveling to Tempe for the Cactus League game and Servais wanting some of his regulars who weren’t traveling to have an easier workday, he decided to have his coaching staff man most of the defensive positions for the extended simulated game Sunday on the back field. That meant two-thirds of the starting outfield from the magical 2001 team would be side-by-side with Mike Cameron in center field and Ichiro in right field.
Servais rewarded both of them with some at-bats in the game as well.
“I knew Ichi was up for it when he went to the batting cage with pine tar on his bat,” Servais said.
Facing Marco Gonzales, Ichiro hit a soft fly ball to left field for an out.
“It was just nostalgic in a way,” said Gonzales, who threw in the simulated game instead of facing the Angels. “It’s one of those things where you try to make it game-like, but when he steps in, it all of a sudden changes the whole scenery of the game. It’s very fulfilling to be around him, because it’s such a pure baseball energy. When he steps in the box, I just couldn’t help myself. Probably the only time I’ll ever put a smile on my face. And I love the guy so much.”
Cameron had two plate appearances. Facing Keynan Middleton, he struck out on three pitches. Middleton pumped a mid-90s fastball past Cameron, who squared to bunt, for a first-pitch strike. He then snapped off a nasty breaking ball with the second pitch that elicited an ugly, lunging swing and a miss from Cameron, who let out a groan in the process. Middleton then blew another fastball past Cameron, who waved at it.
“You need to respect your elders” could be heard from Cameron later in the dugout.
But in a second plate appearance, facing Gonzales a half-inning later, Cameron did make solid contact with a lineout to left field.