CHICAGO -- Rookie Matt Brash was getting ready for his first career start, warming up in the bullpen prior to Tuesday’s game, when the White Sox brought out their entire team, one at a time by car from center field. In front of a sellout crowd of 36,948 fans, this was no Spring Training, no Minor Leagues. This was the big leagues.
“The pregame ceremony was extremely long, but for him to handle that, in his first Major League start, was awesome,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “I just said ‘Hey, go out and pitch like you’re a young kid pitching to Canada today.’ He looked at me [like], ‘I got this.’”
Brash, Seattle’s No. 6 and the league’s No. 97 prospect per MLB Pipeline, came out of the gate like it was a normal game, showcasing his arm power in the Mariners’ 3-2 loss. His first pitch was a 97.3 mph fastball that Tim Anderson fouled off. Then, two batters later, Brash darted a 99.2 mph fastball past reigning AL MVP José Abreu for a strike.
Brash’s first-inning line: no hits, no runs, no walks and two strikeouts. He sat both Luis Robert and Abreu down on swinging strikes, on two offspeed pitches out of the zone.
“I felt fine,” Brash said. “Pregame on the bus ride here, I was a little jittery, butterflies. But once I got out to the mound, I felt great.”
The strikeouts are nothing new for Brash. Last season at Class A Advanced Everett and Double-A Arkansas, Brash tallied 142 strikeouts in 97 1/3 innings, good for a K/9 rate of 13.1, earning him a nod as the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
That trend continued on Tuesday as Brash struck out six White Sox, becoming just the sixth pitcher in Mariners history to record six-plus strikeouts in his MLB debut since Ken Cloude did it on August 9, 1997 -- also against the South Siders.
“What an effort by Matt Brash,” Servais said. “To go out against a high-caliber, high-powered offense and command the strike zone and be in total control, [I’m] really excited for him.”
Brash got some early run support on a 364-foot home run from Eugenio Suárez, giving Seattle a lead in the second inning. However, the Mariners didn’t supply any more runs for the Canadian native.
After Brash gave up a walk and a single in the third inning, the White Sox were in striking distance. Then, J.P. Crawford bobbled a ground ball, allowing Brash’s first earned run of the game.
Still, the Mariners were tied at 1 with the White Sox entering the sixth inning, with Brash still on the mound. Unfortunately, the rookie wouldn’t finish the frame, giving up a home run to Roberts and a single to Abreu in consecutive at-bats.
“That was a slider that I got too much of the plate,” said Brash of the home run. “He’s obviously a really good hitter.”
The rookie’s final line was 5 1/3 innings, with four hits, two runs, one walk and six strikeouts. He also had 11 swings and misses on his curveball -- the most in an MLB debut since 2009.
“That’s my game plan every time, attack these hitters,” Brash said. “I was trying to get ahead early with offspeed and fastballs, and I thought I did a really good job of that.”
Despite another quiet day for the Mariners’ offense, there’s reason to believe that they will pick things up.
“Our team really competed our tail off,” said Servais. “We had a lot of chances and we hit some balls hard today that didn’t fall in for us.”
The Mariners had six at-bats with an exit velocity of over 100 mph, including three that went for outs. They also were robbed twice by spectacular grabs from the White Sox fielders, especially a catch from Luis Robert in the third that would have plated at least one, if not two runs, off the bat of Jesse Winker.
But what mattered most for Seattle going forward was the 23-year-old pitcher who played his heart out, with family and friends in the stands, against a tough White Sox lineup.
“I competed and showed what I got,” said Brash. “I’m just ready to get back out there. It was a lot of fun.”