The “hard lessons” learned in Major League Baseball as labeled by manager Scott Servais finally reached a point where the Mariners had to send rookie pitcher Matt Brash back to minor league baseball.
His latest outing, which lasted just two innings in a 7-2 loss to the Astros, provided another example of the talented right-hander being unable to harness his overpowering stuff including a blazing fastball and wipeout breaking pitches to the point of being effective.
Following an abysmal three-city road trip where they finished with a 2-7 record — the only two wins coming in games started by Logan Gilbert — the Mariners announced a slew of roster moves Thursday afternoon as they prepared to open a four-game series vs. the Tampa Bay Rays later that evening at T-Mobile Park.
The official roster moves:
— Right-handed pitcher Matt Brash optioned to Triple-A Tacoma (postgame May 4)
— Right-handed pitcher Matt Festa placed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow tendintiis (retroactive to May 4)
— Right-handed pitcher Riley O’Brien, a Shorewood High School alum, recalled from Triple-A Tacoma
— Left-handed pitcher Danny Young selected from Triple-A Tacoma
— Left-handed pitcher Nick Margevicius designated for assignment
— Right-handed pitcher Matt Koch has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Tacoma
So who will take Brash’s spot in the starting rotation? He is scheduled to start Monday vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at T-Mobile Park. It’s likely that is a roster move yet to be made with Seattle utilizing Brash’s roster spot for an extra reliever until Monday.
The popular choice would be top pitching prospect George Kirby, who has been outstanding with Double-A Arkansas since losing the competition with Brash in spring training for the last rotation spot.
In five starts with the Travelers, Kirby is 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA. In 24.2 innings pitched, Kirby has struck out 32 batters with only five walks. He is scheduled to pitch for Arkansas on Sunday, but the Mariners could have him throw a bullpen session on Friday and have him ready to pitch for Monday on extra rest.
Seattle expected Kirby would debut at some point this season. The biggest issue is his overall innings total. Having thrown just under 70 innings last season, the Mariners aren’t likely have Kirby pitch more than 100-110 total innings this season. It’s much easier to control that usage at the minor league level where game outcomes are secondary to development. But there is little doubt that he is the most talented starting pitcher in the organization and best equipped of the prospects to face a big league lineup.
In five starts, Brash had posted a 1-3 record with a 7.65 ERA with 19 strikeouts and 17 walks in 20 innings. After looking dominant in spring training and outdueling Kirby to win the fifth spot in the opening day starting rotation, Brash looked solid in his MLB debut. Facing the White Sox in Chicago, he pitched 5.1 innings, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
He earned his first MLB win in his second start against the Astros at T-Mobile Park despite walking six batters in 5.1 innings. He allowed just two runs on two hits with five strikeouts.
But the Astros provided the game plan to beating Brash — stay away from all breaking pitches since they were diving out of the strike zones and force him to throw fastballs for strikes once he fell behind in counts.
Over his next three starts, Brash went 0-2 with a 12.54 ERA, allowing 13 runs on 18 hits in 9.1 innings. He walked 10 batters and struck out only eight.
“That’s been probably one of my biggest issues — just not enough strikes to get chases,” Brash said. “So when they see spin, they’re just taking it because they know I’m not landing it for the majority of the time.”
Per MLB Statcast data, Brash has thrown 314 pitches this season with 55.1% considered breaking pitches (107 sliders, 66 curveballs). Of those 173 breaking pitches, 66.1% were considered out of the strike zone and 38.1% of 173 pitches were called balls. Over his last three starts, Brash has thrown 144 pitches with 83 breaking balls. Of those 83 breaking balls, 47 were considered out of the strike zone with 34 called balls.
The Mariners thought Brash might be tipping his pitches in his outing in Miami with hitters not chasing pitches that should’ve generated swings. They changed his setup position while throwing with runners on base.
“It was to hopefully hide the ball a little better,” Brash said after Wednesday’s game. “Just watching the video and stuff, it looked like I was tipping pitches. I was showing the (pitch grip) to the runners on second. I just want to have my hands a little lower to hide the ball a little better. I worked on it this week.”
O’Brien, 27, was acquired from the Reds in a trade for a player to be named later or cash considerations. A Seattle native, O’Brien has made five relief appearances for Triple-A Tacoma, posting a 1-1 record and a 1.59 ERA.