Gilbert's gem continues stingy stretch by Mariners' rotation

Right-hander logs eight scoreless frames as Seattle finishes off fourth shutout win in 2024

May 5th, 2024

HOUSTON -- The sweat seeped from 's bushy locks down his forehead as he descended into the visiting dugout at Minute Maid Park late Saturday night.

He’d just thrown his eighth scoreless inning in another masterpiece within a season that’s becoming full of them, and as he shook manager Scott Servais’ hand, Gilbert lobbied for “one more.”

“When he's waiting on the top step, it's not really a good sign,” Gilbert joked. “... Obviously, it was a game we needed to win, so he was just pretty fired up, as we all were.”

Alas, a pitch count at 96, a comfortable lead and the position on the calendar proved to be a no-brainer for Servais to turn the game over to Tayler Saucedo, who reached the finish line of the Mariners’ fourth shutout in a 5-0 win over the Astros.

Hours shy of his 27th birthday, Gilbert continued the remarkable run by Seattle’s rotation, which has now reached 21 straight games allowing two earned runs or fewer. That tied the second-longest streak in Major League history since tracking of earned runs began in 1913, with the 1917 White Sox.

The Mariners can tie the overall record of 22 straight held by the 1915 Washington Senators as soon as Sunday’s series finale behind Bryce Miller.

Moreover, Gilbert advanced to 32-0 in his four-year career when receiving at least three runs of support. And on a night when he struck out six and surrendered only one hit until the seventh inning -- a bunt single in the first by Yordan Alvarez of all outcomes -- Gilbert also extended the Mariners’ MLB lead with 21 quality starts, six of which are his own, which itself is tied for the MLB lead with four others.

Gilbert has essentially put the Mariners in position to win across his seven starts, sans a four-run outing in Milwaukee on April 5. He is second in MLB with 48 innings, is tied for fourth with 50 strikeouts, fifth with a 1.69 ERA, fifth with a 0.79 WHIP and fifth with a .502 OPS against.

“He’s got an explosive fastball, he’s got the slider,” Astros manager Joe Espada said. “If you don’t get him in the zone, he’s a really tough guy to hit. We just expanded the zone today against him. He’s got some really good stuff.”

But Seattle’s overall success despite Gilbert’s consistency also hinges on its offense carrying its weight, and Saturday’s showing against Framber Valdez underscored the type of output -- and more so, approach -- that its coaches have long sought.

“For me, I thought it was the most complete game we’ve played all year,” Servais said.

The Mariners know Valdez well, having now faced him 13 times dating to his MLB debut at T-Mobile Park in 2018. They also know that the clearest path to do damage against the sinkerball and spin specialist is to spit on pitches low in the zone and ambush him up.

Nearly all of Seattle’s nine hits against the lefty fell into that criteria, and seven were to straightaway center or the right of second base, illustrating Servais’ intention when stacking his lineup exclusively with righties.

Luis Urías was among that group, starting at third base over Josh Rojas, who has been the Mariners’ most consistent hitter so far. And Urías showed why with a 420-foot solo homer off Valdez on a sinker in the zone in the fifth.

Servais said pregame that the Mariners intend to make a minor shift to their third-base platoon and work Urías into more playing time, which would feature Rojas in the same lineups, but playing left field against certain righty pitchers based on matchups.

“Obviously, I want to play more,” Urías said. “But I mean, this is baseball -- it's not about me, it's about the team. And obviously, Josh has been tremendous.”

The Mariners also did pull-side damage off Valdez, via a 390-foot, two-run blast onto the concourse in left-center from Cal Raleigh that knocked Valdez out of the game after giving up five runs with one out in the sixth.

A sizable 12 of the 20 balls in play against Valdez were hard-hit.

“It was a pretty good [game plan] today,” Raleigh said. “We kept it simple, didn't really stray from it. We took our knocks the other way. I think that was the biggest thing you saw today.”

After a stinging start to the weekend by losing a winnable game on Friday, Seattle has the opportunity to earn its sixth straight series win on Sunday.