When Logan Gilbert envisioned jogging to the mound for the first inning of his first start at T-Mobile Park, he didn’t think the stands would be empty save for about a dozen randomly dispersed people. Nor did he envision that a mask-wearing Andy McKay, the team’s director of player development, would serve as his umpire or that the hitters he would be facing were his teammates.
Then again, he probably didn’t imagine a pandemic would sidetrack a season where he was supposed to pitch in big leagues.
Had it not been for the rapid spread of the coronavirus shutting down all sports in March, the hard-thrownig Gilbert, the Mariners’ top pitching prospect and first-round draft pick in 2018, would have been making his Major League Baseball debut right around this time of the season.
Instead, his first start in Seattle was in Saturday afternoon’s five-inning intrasquad scrimmage where he took the “loss” as his team, the Pilots, were shut out 1-0 by the Steelheads.
“I imagined it’d have a little more people in the stands, but it’s still really cool,” Gilbert said. “It was nice getting comfortable out there being able to play intrasquads and stuff, things that people wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to do before a debut. So it’s really fun being out there.”
After dominating the first inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced, he allowed a run in the second. The problems started with a leadoff walk to Jarred Kelenic.
“Falling behind to a couple of batters, those are spring training-type things I need to work out now and get fixed for the next time,” he said.
Kelenic easily stole second and scored on Donovan Walton’s double into the right-field corner for the game’s only run.
“It was a fastball that l left over the middle,” Gilbert said. “It was a 1-0 count, and I was falling behind right there. He was probably pretty sure I was coming with a fastball with as long as we’ve played together. He was probably ready for it.
Both hitters were Gilbert’s teammates on the Class AA Arkansas Travelers.
“It’s fun facing guys you know, but at the same time I’m trying to stay competitive and stay locked in,” he said. “But I think saw Kelenic smirk at me before he got in the box.”
Gilbert’s fastball sat around 93-94 mph and touched 95 mph on occasion. His off-speed pitches were particularly effective in the first inning.
“It felt pretty good and felt better in the first inning,” he said of his curveball and slider usage. “It was better in the first inning because I had more opportunities to use them because I was ahead in counts.”
The overall command just wasn’t as crisp as he would like, which was to be expected. His last game action came March 10 — two days before baseball was shut down — in a Cactus League start against the Angels. He threw two perfect innings and struck out three batters.
Gilbert’s MLB debut likely won’t come until next season. The Mariners are locked into a six-man starting rotation with Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Kendall Graveman, Taijuan Walker, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn for the season. While Graveman and Walker are bridges to the future in this step-back rebuild, the Mariners aren’t going to rush Gilbert to the big leagues this season.
“Things kind of got flipped around big time,” he said. “I was hoping to be up in the big leagues by this time, but things got changed around. As long as we get the most out of it development-wise and still get a lot of innings in under my belt, I feel like that’s the next best thing. I wasn’t really sure if this season would actually happen or not.”
The plan was for him to make at least six to eight starts at Arkansas and perhaps move up to Triple A Tacoma for a handful for a starts before debuting in mid- to late-July. But without that buildup of starts and innings pitched, it would be unfair to push Gilbert into MLB games. It would also start his service-time and option clock.
“The intent was that he would have pitched a half season by now at the Double A and Triple A level to prepare himself,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “The idea of taking players who haven’t had those experiences or been built up appropriately, and just throwing them into the deep end of the pool, at a time when the threat of injury if not handled appropriately is higher, we have to manage that properly, and we will. We’ll do the right thing.”
Gilbert tries not to think about the what-might’ve-been aspect of his situation.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s easier to say than actually do. Obviously, at this point, I could let myself keep thinking about it, but it’s really just wasted energy when it comes down to it. It won’t do anything for me to wish that none of this would have happened. It’s the situation that I’m in, so the only thing that I can do is try to make the most out of it.”
And pitching in T-Mobile in an intrasquad game was an unexpected bonus.
“Absolutely, it’s kind of a weird situation,” he said. “But just being able to get innings in here at T Mobile, at a major league stadium, before my debut, you can’t put a price on that. It’s really valuable, and it’s going to help me get the reps, get the innings but also feel more comfortable when I do get out there and it’s the real thing.”
* Two pitches after throwing a 101 mph fastball to Jose Marmolejos on an 0-2 count, hard-throwing reliever Gerson Bautista was being escorted from the mound by athletic trainer Rob Nodine with a possible arm issue in the fifth inning of Saturday’s five-inning intrasquad game. Bautista was supposed to be the final pitcher of the day. When he left the mound, the game ended.
After his triple-digit fastball that Marmolejos fouled off, Bautista threw another fastball that only touched 94 mph on the stadium radar gun. His next pitch didn’t register on the radar gun, and he made an awkward movement and looked to be in discomfort.
Acquired as one of five players in the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to New York, Bautista dealt with a pectoral injury in the 2019 spring training. He made eight appearances last season, including two opener starts. He posted a 11.00 ERA with seven strikeouts and nine walks in nine innings pitched. He spent most of the season at Triple A Tacoma, posting an 8.75 ERA in 21 appearance s
* Four Steelheads pitchers — lefty Brandon Williamson, right-handed relievers Joey Gerber, Matt Magill and Bautista — held the Pilots to just one hit in five “innings.” Jake Fraley had an infield hit with one-out in the fifth against Bautista. The four pitchers did walk four batters.