Flexen shows mettle, curve in Cactus debut

March 6th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The question surrounding has been: What changed during a one-year reset pitching in Korea? The new Mariners starting pitcher began to answer that on Friday, when he made his organizational debut during a 2-2 tie against the White Sox in seven innings at Camelback Ranch.

Since Flexen signed a two-year, $4.75 million deal with Seattle on Dec. 18, Seattle has raved about the right-hander’s stuff -- specifically his big 12-6 curveball -- and the development he’s shown since last pitching in the Majors, 14 months ago with the Mets. Flexen finally unveiled that big hook and the rest of his arsenal to opposing hitters over two innings that ended on a high note, with three consecutive strikeouts.

“Very important,” Flexen said of finishing the second as his pitch count climbed. “Early on, you're trying to challenge yourself, see where you're at. And I'd fallen behind in that inning early on … but it's nice to be able to work through those situations early on to see where you're at right now.”

It would’ve been no soft Spring Training debut for any pitcher, given Chicago’s loaded top of the lineup featuring a batting champion, a reigning MVP and a slugger with 500-foot-homer potential. But Flexen made quick work of Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and José Abreu in the first before allowing his first three baserunners to reach in the second. With the option to roll over the inning looming, Flexen worked out of the jam.

“I really like what I saw,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I think he does it a little bit differently. He's got the higher arm slot, and we saw all four pitches today. Maybe not as good as command as he would’ve liked to have with the secondary pitches, but I really liked how he threw the ball. The first time seeing a guy, you never really know how it's going to look. But I like that one a lot.”

Flexen is the only righty locked in the Mariners’ rotation, with holding the upper hand against lefty for the final spot in the six-man rotation. Other than his curve, Flexen’s fastball sat between 92-93 mph on Friday, and he relied on a cutter-changeup combination.

Flexen’s run with the Mets ended in 2019 after eight years, including parts of three seasons in the big leagues, when he went 3-11 with an 8.07 ERA and had more walks (54) than strikeouts (49). He was far more improved in the Korea Baseball Organization last season, going 8-4 with a 3.01 ERA in 21 starts, including a 1.91 ERA in the playoffs for the Doosan Bears as a starter and reliever.

Though he has a nine-year track record in pro ball, Flexen is still just 26 years old. The Mariners are buying the upside and banking on the righty being one of many young pitchers who weathered a rough patch but have begun to figure themselves and the Majors out.

“[Flexen has] kind of jumped right into the group,” Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth said. “Every now and then, you get that guy that just assimilates really well. I feel like he's been here a while. I feel like I've coached him a while. He’s very open. He had a career-changing experience last year in Korea and has really figured out who he is and what makes him tick.”

Montero pitches to recovering Long, Torrens
Reliever faced hitters for the first time since joining the Mariners by throwing batting practice to catcher and second baseman , who are working their way back from injuries. Montero should pitch in a Cactus League game in the coming days.

Long (right shin) and Torrens (right middle finger laceration) taking live at-bats is also a sign they are progressing toward Cactus League action. Long, who has been adjusting to the volume of work at second base placed on his recovering shin, homered off a fastball from Montero. And for Torrens, gripping a bat and the vibrations of contact have been his last hurdles from returning from a weight room incident that cut his finger two weeks ago.

Torrens is slated to DH on Saturday against the A's. Long will likely need some more time in the field before he is inserted in a lineup.

Up next
Dunn and Margevicius -- the last two arms vying for the final spot in the six-man rotation -- will pitch their first two innings in Cactus League play against division-rival Oakland on Saturday. It’s obviously early, but Dunn has looked far more athletic and flashed some improved stuff and increased velocity. Margevicius had 10 mostly solid outings for the Mariners in 2020, compiling a 4.57 ERA and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. First pitch is slated for 12:10 p.m. PT. Fans can listen to the action via a free audiocast.