Brash, Kirby show their stuff in pitching clinic

March 28th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- The saying is some rendition of “Spring Training results aren’t necessarily important,” which certainly carries some legitimacy. But what the Mariners did Sunday felt a little more significant than any Cactus League game they’d yet played.

They rolled out their likely Opening Day lineup. They rolled out their likely No. 5 starter. And they rolled over Oakland and star pitcher Frankie Montas, much like they did en route to wins in each of their final 12 matchups with their division rivals to end last season. Seattle left Hohokam Stadium with a 7-1 victory and a lot to hang its collective hat on.

Beyond the box score, the game was headlined by Matt Brash (MLB Pipeline’s No. 98 prospect) and George Kirby (No. 32), who continued to give glimpses to how strong Seattle’s long-term rotation can be. They finished with nearly identical results -- six strikeouts over three scoreless innings -- yet each got there with completely different mental processes.

Brash is further solidifying his chance at breaking camp in the rotation. He once again wowed with his high-90s fastball and slider/curveball combination and tallied six strikeouts against the 10 batters he faced over three hitless innings. He also mixed in 4-5 changeups as he looks to better incorporate offspeed pitches, especially to lefties, to help diversify his repertoire and pitch deeper into games.

“I wish I got in the zone, a little closer to the zone, to see if I could get some more swings,” Brash said. “That pitch is really important for me, especially going forward, so I’m going to continue to throw it. And I think when I put it in the zone, good stuff happens.”

As for his elite slider/curveball combo and the fastball that sat at 98 mph, those are much further along.

“The slider is getting there,” Brash said. “It usually takes me a little bit, but it was definitely a lot better today and I threw a lot of curveballs; mixed in both today. But yeah, I’m getting a feel for both pitches. Both felt really good, really tight, kind of putting it where I wanted.”

The showing led to a few shoutouts from PitchingNinja, the famed Twitter personality with more than 350,000 followers who reels impressive pitching feats. The account, run by Rob Friedman, has been touting Brash all the way to last year.

As his feats have grown grander, so has his profile. Brash's family was in attendance on Sunday, too, watching him in person for the first time in his pro career.

“I just tried to have fun today,” Brash said. “I don't get these opportunities very much, my first Spring Training start, so I just went out there and was going to have fun and throw my best stuff. And yeah, it was just a great time.”

Kirby, who started on Monday and was followed by Brash, flip-flopped this go around. He had to adjust out of the bullpen, something he hadn’t done since the Cape Cod League in 2018, then he had to work around a double, single and walk that loaded the bases in his first inning. Kirby has some of the best command in the Minors and walked just 15 batters last year, so he isn’t exactly used to pitching from the stretch.

“I don't like walks, but it happened,” Kirby said. “I've been trying to work out of the stretch more often in practice. It’s something that is sometimes a little uncomfortable. The more I've been working in practice, the more comfortable I'm getting.”

It’s evident that both Brash and Kirby not only possess elite stuff, but they trust it and are gaining confidence with it as they continue to face big league hitters for the first time during these Cactus League outings.

“It's awesome,” Kirby said. “I can see that my fastball plays well in the zone. As long as I'm getting ahead and I can use my offspeed pitches off the fastball, it feels good to get some swings and misses.”

And Brash: “Today, I felt really good. All my stuff was working and definitely always confident up on the mound trusting my stuff. I'm just happy to show that I can compete at this level.”

Both will likely be in the big leagues this season, but Brash accumulated more innings last year (97 1/3 to Kirby’s 69 2/3), making him the more likely candidate to break camp. If so, Kirby returning to Double-A Arkansas, where he finished last year, where the Mariners can closely monitor his innings and where weather is less fickle than Triple-A Tacoma, seems likely.

In the meantime this spring, they’re making an impression.

“For me, what stood out was Brash’s aggressiveness early on,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He's like, ‘Here it is. I'm really good. See if you can hit me.’ And I liked what I saw there. Same with George -- after the first inning it's bases loaded, got through it; but after that, he really took a deep breath and got after them.”