For all the missteps and mistakes, the failures in execution and teachable moments -– a kind way of saying something went very wrong — that have happened for the Mariners in 2020, there have been more than few flashes of success to encourage those people who believe in this step-back rebuild that everything is still progressing as planned.
While most signs of optimism have often been limited to the showing of one or two players, or perhaps a stretch of three or four quality innings of baseball, the Mariners’ 10-1 drubbing of the reeling Texas Rangers at home on Saturday was an extended exhibition of the team’s overall potential with several key players germane to the team’s core of future success providing production.
“We need to continue to have a few more of these nights,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said in a postgame video conference. “It really helps the confidence of these young guys. We are learning, and we are growing. It’s fun when guys go out and play like this.”
In just their 10th victory in 29 games, the Mariners got a third consecutive solid outing from starter Justus Sheffield, while the buddy duo of Kyle Lewis and Evan White provided a large portion of another explosion of hits and runs against the beleaguered Texas pitching staff that has now allowed 61 runs (57 earned) in the past seven games — all defeats.
White drove in a career-high six runs, highlighted by a three-run homer and two-run double, while Lewis reached base five times on three hits and two walks, scoring three runs. Lewis has 13 hits in his past seven games and leads the American League with 38 hits.
Other players/prospects expected to be contributors to this rebuild experiment, such as second baseman Shed Long Jr., outfielder Jake Fraley, right-handed reliever Joey Gerber and left-hander Aaron Fletcher, who made his MLB debut, also had moments Saturday that could help others believe there might be better days ahead.
On a night where he graded out his stuff as a B or a C+, Sheffield worked six innings, allowing just one run on six hits with a walk and six strikeouts to improve to 2-2.
“I didn’t have my best stuff tonight,” Sheffield said in a video conference. “But I was able to adjust and throw a lot more changeups and keep them off balance to take advantage of how aggressive they were.”
In his past three outings against the Rockies, Astros and Rangers, Sheffield has pitched 18 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on 16 hits with two walks and 16 strikeouts.
More importantly, he’s thrown 53 first-pitch strikes to the 74 batters (72%) he faced over that span. In his first two outings of the season, Sheffield was constantly behind in counts and angry at himself for pitching defensively. He vowed to make a change and has made good on that promise.
“It’s a matter of trusting your stuff, seeing your target and driving toward it,” he said. “I feel like that’s my style when I’m out there attacking.”
Servais wants it to be all of his pitchers’ style.
“We’re really pressing them on it,” Servais said. “This is what we are going to do. You see the results, it’s right in front of you. It really comes down to focus. You watch a major league game and it’s ball one, then ball two. All of a sudden now the count’s 2-0 or 2-1 and magically everyone can throw a strike. Why is that? That’s focus. You got to trust your stuff. You got to believe in it. Take your chances. Once in a while you’ll give up a 0-0 hit, we can live with that.”
For the second consecutive game, the Mariners jumped on the Rangers starting pitcher in the first inning.
This time it was right-hander Jordan Lyles, who actually made it out of the first inning unlike his rotation-mate Kolby Allard on Friday. Seattle scored three runs off Lyles with Kyle Seager driving in a run with a sacrifice fly while White, who missed the past two games with a severe knee contusion, smoked a double down the third-base line to score a pair of runs.
It would get no better for Lyles, who allowed eight runs on 11 hits in four innings. After a brief respite in the second inning, the Mariners hung five runs on him in the third inning, highlighted by White’s three-run homer into Edgar’s Cantina.
White’s fifth homer of the season was most impressive because of his ability to keep his hands inside of a 93 mph fastball from Lyles that was well inside and off the plate. His sixth RBI came on a fielder’s choice in the eighth inning that was almost a base hit up the middle. Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor made a nice play to get a force out at second.
“I haven’t seen the pitch so I have no idea where it exactly was, but it felt like it was little in,” he said. “I just tried to stay to the middle field and trust my preparation to stay inside the ball and fortunately I had enough to get the barrel to it.”
The seven runs of support in the first three innings was more than enough for Sheffield.
His only run allowed came when he hit Rob Refsynder with a pitch to start the third inning. Refsnyder advanced to third on a single by Nick Solak and scored on Danny Santana’s sacrifice fly. Sheffield wasn’t dominant and allowed at least one base runner in every inning but the second. But the calmly worked out of the minor situations each time.
For the second consecutive night, the Mariners got a scoreless effort from the bullpen. Gerber, Fletcher and veteran Yoshihisa Hirano, who was making his Mariners debut, each tossed scoreless innings.