Pitching and patience give M's first series win
Yusei Kikuchi turned in a fine performance in a no-decision in the season's second game
April 3, 2021
After Opening Night's wild and wacky role-reversal win for the Mariners against the San Francisco Giants, things seemed to revert to form for Game Two. In that affair on Friday night, Yusei Kikuchi threw a gem, striking out ten over six innings while only racking up 89 pitches, a start marred only by two mistakes—home runs the opposite way off of outside fastballs to Buster Posey and Evan Longoria. (They weren't bad pitches, either, it's not like Yusei grooved them down the middle.) It was a terrific game for the Japanese lefty and he left with the score tied at 3-3. So, like in seasons past, a good effort by the starter must go for naught, and thus it was Friday. The M's could not put anything more on the board themselves and the bullpen coughed up three more runs the very next inning to seal the defeat. The rubber match was another story, though—Chris Flexen was unexpectedly good in his Seattle debut, notching a win with five shutout innings in his return to the big leagues from a year in the Korean Baseball Organization. Even more surprising, his relief held his 3-0 lead and the lineup even tacked on one more to give a little bit of breathing room. Kendall Graveman pitched two dominant innings and new alleged closer Rafael Montero retired all four batters he faced for his first Mariner save.
Three different sorts of games, three different sorts of results. Three games, of course, do not a season make, but it's a curious taste of what may or may not be to come for Your 2021 Seattle Mariners. In the opener, the M's started out being very aggressive at the plate, swinging early and giving the Giants way too many easy outs and letting starting pitcher Kevin Gausman cruise; it was only after Gausman was out of the game that they changed tactics and became patient batters, working counts to their advantage and taking seven walks that would all factor into the eventual 8-7 score. Friday night, the patient approach disappeared; only Jake Fraley (current OBP: .615) continued to work the pitchers consistently, and the M's hit into two double plays to erase leadoff walks. There was only one DP turned against the M's in the third game, but it too killed a rally.
What we saw in exactly none of these contests was much of a running game. Those double plays occurred with good baserunners aboard, good opportunities to try hit-and-run plays, but the approach was once again more Earl Weaver than Whitey Herzog—go for the three-run homer, don't move more incrementally—and nothing came of it. I for one would like to see a whole lot more aggression once on base and more patience in getting there. There was one stolen base in the series, a swipe of second by Dylan Moore that was rendered irrelevant by a walk to the next batter, but let's try putting real pressure on the opposing defenses going forward, shall we?
Hey, the bottom line is two wins out of three games, and I'll take that most every time. I just hope the team's identity starts to form up as these first few series play out.
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