'Workaholic' Gilbert crucial for Mariners' stretch run

Right-hander, nearing a career high in innings, struggles for second straight start vs. Yankees

August 9th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The Mariners already have a workload-management situation on their hands with George Kirby. Might another be surfacing with Logan Gilbert?

Seattle’s towering righty surrendered a season-high seven runs in a 9-4 loss to the Yankees on Monday at T-Mobile Park, an alarming total given that his previous high was six in his most recent start against this same team last week.

Yet it was the way in which Gilbert was tagged that was more illuminating as he navigates his first full MLB season. Nearly all of the season-high 10 hits against him were in or near the middle of the zone, and if not, in the lower quadrant, areas where the Yankees have a .541 slugging percentage, third best in MLB.

The velocity of all his pitches hovered around his season averages, yet location was an obvious issue. He couldn’t get the fastball to the edges early or elevate it later in counts, and he struggled to drop his slider and curve below the zone to generate chases. As such, he induced just eight whiffs and two strikeouts.

“I feel good,” Gilbert said. “I mean, it's August. I don't think anybody feels perfect, but I'm not going to sit here and say that my body doesn't feel good or anything like that when I know there are other guys that probably feel worse or are more fatigued. I think right now, this is exciting baseball for the team, for the whole city. So you can't really worry about if you feel bad or anything like that. You’ve just got to find a way to go.”

To be sure, Gilbert labored against an inconsistent strike zone from home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez and saw a few catchable balls drop behind him. But being unable to overcome those challenges created more opportunities for Gilbert to stumble. His night ended after he surrendered three straight doubles to begin the fifth inning, part of six hits for extra bases.

The Yankees have arguably the AL’s best power-hitting lineup, and facing a team twice in a row is always a tall task. Gilbert’s two starts prior were against Houston, meaning that he’s exclusively faced the AL’s two best teams since the All-Star break.

Yet Gilbert’s hard-hit totals have been on the rise for over a month now. Since July 1, he has a 5.50 ERA and opponents have a .918 OPS against him over seven starts, compared to a 2.66 ERA and .636 OPS in his first 16 outings.

Entering Monday, opposing hitters had been making more optimum contact against Gilbert's two best pitches in recent outings.

“You want to stay on the edges,” Gilbert said. “At the same time, you want to make sure you're getting ahead in counts. So that's basically just the execution side of it. Like I said, sometimes I did a good job of it, but for the most part, when I made a mistake, they capitalized on it.”

The four-plus innings marked Gilbert’s shortest start since Aug. 27, 2021, and not one of them was a clean 1-2-3 frame, though he did get the first two outs three times. Yet therein lies another issue the righty has experienced, as opposing teams entered the night with an .802 OPS against him with two outs and the Yanks went 3-for-6 with a single, double, homer and walk against him in such situations on Monday. The putaway pitch more often eluded him.

“Logan is going to be clutch for us down the stretch,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said, noting that he didn’t think fatigue has become an issue. “He's a workaholic. He's on top of it. I don't really have any concerns.”

The Mariners were always going to monitor Gilbert’s workload more closely than their veteran starters, and that’s probably truer now that he’s experiencing more pronounced struggles.

Gilbert’s career innings totals

2018: 112 1/3 (all college)
2019: 135 (all Minors)
2020: 0 (Minors season canceled)
2021: 124 1/3 (only 5 IP in Minors)
2022: 132 1/3 (all MLB)

Last year, the Mariners deliberately allocated Gilbert’s innings for August and September, though that was made possible by a minor shoulder injury in Spring Training and the delayed start to the Minors season, where he began the year. Gilbert also had a tough August in 2021 (9.13 ERA, .985 OPS, 23 2/3 IP) before finishing strong in September (2.70 ERA, .598 OPS, 33 1/3 IP).

He’s a huge part of Seattle’s plans this year and long term, and at times, one of the AL’s more dominant starters. That’s what makes his workload situation worth watching -- particularly in the context of the Mariners’ playoff race, as the Mariners’ lead for the final AL Wild Card spot dropped to just one game.