Flexen becoming more than an innings-eater

June 23rd, 2021

SEATTLE -- The way that has pitched over the past month has been stellar, having put the Mariners either in position to win, spelled the bullpen or a combination of both.

But what stood out from Flexen’s latest gem -- a one-run, four-hit outing over 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1 win on Tuesday over Colorado -- was the conviction with which his manager spoke of him postgame.

“He's a big part of our rotation now and going forward,” Scott Servais said. “And he fits age-wise, and I am surprised that he has improved as quickly as he has [and] what he's done here. The last six or seven starts have just been outstanding.”

Flexen is three months into his second shot in The Show, and the returns of a two-year, $4.75 million contract with a third-year club option have been strong, especially over this current stretch. Since a career-worst start in San Diego on May 21 that included some NSFW comments in self-frustration after, the right-hander has a 2.41 ERA in 33 2/3 innings over five starts while holding opposing hitters to a .205/.236/.359 clip (.595 OPS).

What’s changed? A revamped approach on how to attack hitters? More polished pitches? More self-assurance when successfully working out of jams? How about all of the above.

“I think each outing I've continued to grow, to trust myself, trust my plan,” Flexen said. “Being new here as well, continuing to work with these with the catchers … continuing to solidify a plan. And they're getting more comfortable with challenging me with certain pitches and situations as well, and that gives me confidence.”

On Tuesday against the Rockies, Flexen -- typically in the low 90s -- had more life on his fastball than he’s shown all season, topping out at 94.7 mph and sitting at 93.8 mph, both personal benchmarks. It helped lead to 19 swings and misses, which trail only Logan Gilbert’s 20 from June 8 in Anaheim for the Mariners’ most in 2021.

Gilbert is a power pitcher whose game is predicated on whiffs; Flexen, who typically plays to weak contact and relies on his defense, not nearly as much. And Flexen’s command with the heater, which opposing batters were hitting .314 against, helped the rest of his pitches play.

In Flexen’s start prior, a June 15 win over Minnesota, he thwarted Minnesota’s slug-heavy lineup with a bevy of changeups, a pitch that he said in Spring Training was a work in progress.

Earlier this season, the cutter was a make-or-break pitch that determined the success of his outing. It still remains a weapon, but the rest of his arsenal seems to be opening more. And don’t forget about the curve, the pitch that the Mariners were touting after signing him following his 2020 season playing in the Korea Baseball Organization.

“He is really using his curveball effectively,” Servais said. “We saw a lot of good ones again [on Tuesday]. I’m really, really happy with the strides that he has taken. He looks really comfortable. He believes he belongs.”

Though he’s been in professional baseball since being drafted in the 14th round by the Mets in 2012, Flexen is still only 26 years old. He’s tumbled out of the big leagues, been humbled by an overseas experience and returned with a lot left to prove. The Mariners scouted him exclusively on video, given the circumstances of the pandemic, and so far, it’s paying off.

“It’s a huge honor to hear that from the manager,” Flexen said in response to Servais’ comments. “I think it just shows the continued growth and trying to continue to get better, day in day out.”