Mariners LZ Yusei Kikuchi struck out 10 batters in his first start of 2021. (Getty)
The Mariners’ first series of the 2021 season is now on the books, and Seattle is 2-1 and a series winner after a 4-0 shutout victory over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday. night.
Flexen, France and Haniger lead Mariners to beat Giants in series win
After a victory on opening day, the Mariners fell to San Francisco 6-3 on Friday before closing out the Giants on Saturday to win the series.
The Mariners have Sunday off before resuming play Monday against the Chicago White Sox, so now is a good opportunity to look back on the opening series.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Seattle’s inaugural series win over San Francisco.
Controlling the area
If you’ve been following the Mariners for the past few seasons, you know a key focus is dominating the strike zone both on the mound and at the plate. Consider the first series of the season a success in that regard.
Mariners hitters walked 16 and struck out 29 times. Mariners pitchers, meanwhile, walked just 10 batters while recording 32 strikeouts.
After Saturday, the 16 walks drawn were the second-most in MLB, while the 32 strikeouts thrown was the third-best mark in the league.
Control of the strike zone was by far manager Scott Servais’ greatest achievement of the three-game series victory. He was especially pleased with what he saw in their lineup.
“Our hitters for the most part throughout this series didn’t chase a ton,” he said. “There is an at-bat here and there where a guy strays from his plan, but I talk about that often … if we continue (to dominate the zone) and grow it with our young players, we are going to have a good season, we really will. No matter how many home runs we hit, controlling the strike zone is what it’s all about and that’s what sets me apart in this series. That has been the battle cry with this group for some years now and it is paying off. It’s paying off right now. “
That approach was especially key on the opening day.
The Mariners won that game 8-7 in extra innings, but despite scoring eight runs, Seattle had just five hits. However, the Mariners’ hitters did hit nine walks in that game, including Jake Fraley’s walk with the bases loaded in the 10th inning.
Speaking of Fraley, perhaps no Mariner is controlling the area better.
Through three games and 13 plate appearances, Fraley has walked six times and been hit by a pitch. He has just one hit in six at-bats for a .167 average, but his on-base percentage is .615.
Gonzales struggles, but other headlines shine
No. 1 pitcher Marco Gonzales was unusually out Thursday, allowing five runs in six innings, including three home runs. More surprising, however, was that after walking just seven batters in 11 starts last season, Gonzales walked three on opening day, including the first batter of the season.
As Gonzales struggled, Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Flexen were outstanding in their respective starts.
Kikuchi, who had a 5.17 ERA in 2020 and was 2-4, was on his game.
Aside from allowing three runs and two home runs, Kikuchi dominated. He struck out 10 batters and walked only one, and of his 89 pitches, 67 were strikes. All 10 strikeouts tied his personal best.
Kikuchi’s aggression in the strike zone coupled with his positive offers really impressed his manager.
“That’s the kind of thing and the focus and just the attacking mentality that we’ve been talking about (him showing),” Servais said after Friday’s 6-3 loss. “… That’s such a dominant start that we’ve seen him have … Really happy and looking forward to seeing many more outings like that this year.”
Kikuchi also echoed his manager’s comments through an interpreter after the game.
“All spring long everyone told me … to be aggressive in the area and attack the area, and I think that was something I was able to do,” he said.
Following Kikuchi in the rotation was right-hander Flexen, who was making his first MLB appearance since 2019. He pitched in Korea in 2020 before signing with the Mariners this offseason.
Flexen’s signing in place of a more well-known product may have puzzled some fans, but his performance on Saturday showed why the Mariners attacked him.
Flexen didn’t give up a run and allowed just four hits in five innings while striking out six and walking two. His fastball sat between 92 and 93 mph and touched 94 and 95 at times. He also used a cutter that Servais described as his “go-to pitch” while mixing a curveball and a change.
“You need all of them to work,” Servais said. “That’s when he’s at his best and that’s what we saw tonight.”
Flexen claimed the victory, his first in MLB since his rookie season in 2017 when he was with the New York Mets.
Bullpen plays a major role in all three games
On opening day, the Mariners’ bullpen allowed two runs (just one earned run) in four innings of work in the team’s victory.
During the second game, however, Drew Steckenrider allowed three runs and recorded just two outs to win the loss.
Finally, on Saturday, Kendall Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz and Rafael Montero combined for four scoreless innings and struck out six to preserve the shutout and a 4-0 victory.
Graveman especially shined, pitching two innings and striking out five, allowing just one runner.
“I thought Gravey tonight was just amazing,” Servais said. “The material was incredible.”
Graveman was in the nineties with his fastball / sinker, but his slider was on the money. His five strikeouts came on the slider.
Following Graveman came Misiewicz, who recorded two outs before two weak shots knocked him out of the game. Montero, who had allowed a home run in a save situation on opening day, came in and rallied for a four-out save.
“I love handing him the ball,” Servais said of Montero. “… He has real weapons. It has starting pitcher-type weapons. Coming out of the bullpen in short periods like that, he (has) the good (speed), the good gear, and a very good slider, and he stays out of the middle of the plate for the most part. “
The bullpen was a major weakness for the Mariners the past two seasons, and while the lineup and starting rotation are very promising with a good mix of veterans and talented young players, the bullpen is a big question mark going forward. and it could play a decisive role. much of whether Seattle can compete for a playoff spot.
Graveman told reporters that members of the Mariners’ bullpen understand how vital they are to this team.
“This year for us in the bullpen, I’ve communicated to each of our guys in the bullpen (that) ‘our team is going to go on the fly,'” he said. “If we can come in and close the door … we’re going to win a lot of baseball games.”
Up and down series for Taylor Trammell
The Mariners broke camp with a great outfield prospect ready to play every day in 2021. The surprise, however, is that it was Taylor Trammell and not Jarred Kelenic.
Trammell started all three games in center field and batted fifth in the lineup, and while he had great moments, he also had some rookie moments at the plate.
On opening day, Trammell walked two, including a key eight-pitch free pass in the eighth inning of the team’s six runs. He also went into extra innings and posted an outfield assist that ultimately saved a run.
An early lesson on racing on Taylor Trammell: pic.twitter.com/SKlwKTeDiO
– MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 2, 2021
On Friday, Trammell logged another walk and made a nice sliding play in center field.
– Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 3, 2021
And on Saturday, Trammell finally recorded his first MLB hit, an RBI double in right center field on a change to the outside half of the plate.
We 👀 you @ Taytram24!
First major league hit ✅ pic.twitter.com/nPvjIQQA6O
– Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 4, 2021
However, Trammell struck out six times in 13 plate appearances during the series, including three in Friday’s 6-3 loss.
Servais hopes that Trammell’s first hit on Saturday can pave the way for more success in the future.
“It was nice to see him get the first hit out of the way,” Servais said. “Hopefully he can relax and get a bit more into his game.”
Trammell and the Mariners will look to maintain momentum starting Monday against the promising Chicago White Sox, a contender this season for the American League pennant and perhaps even the World Series. Left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield will open for the Mariners in Game 1, which begins at 7:10 pm at 710 ESPN Seattle.
Gallant: Why the Mariners remember when the 2015 Astros became contenders