Kirby adds another quality start as Mariners win fifth straight series

August 6th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- The Mariners wouldn’t be where they are this season -- in the thick of the AL Wild Card chase -- without the contributions of .

The right-hander rode a stellar first half to his first All-Star selection in July, but entered Saturday night’s start with a 6.00 ERA over his last two outings. 

Fortunately for Seattle, the All-Star version of Kirby showed up in Anaheim. He tossed seven sparkling innings, allowing one run on three hits, not issuing a walk and striking out five Angels in Seattle’s 3-2 win, its fourth straight victory. On a night when the Mariners’ bats didn’t put up much offense against Tyler Anderson and a parade of Angels relievers, Kirby’s gritty outing was more along the lines of what the club has come to expect from him.

“George was in total control,” said manager Scott Servais. “Very efficient with his pitches. Getting seven full innings out of him, it’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

It was Kirby’s ninth quality start this season without a walk, which leads the Majors. Since the start of 2022, he has compiled 14 such outings, also the most in MLB. 

Kirby acknowledged that wasn’t aware of those stats until he was asked about it after the game.

“I hate walking people, and I love reading that stat. … That’s what I really take to heart. It’s pretty cool, I didn’t know that.” 

Kirby has an 8.86 K/BB ratio in 2023 (124 strikeouts and 14 walks in 135 2/3 innings), the best by a pitcher (minimum 130 innings) in a season since Clayton Kershaw in 2016 (15.64 K/BB). 

“I feel like I don’t do my job unless I’m going six or seven,” said Kirby. “Just a really good team win today.” 

Kirby only allowed four baserunners in his outing, and his stingy performance was perhaps best exemplified by Hunter Renfroe's fifth-inning at-bat. On a 3-0 count, Kirby battled back with two swinging strikes on well-placed fastballs, retiring Renfroe on a fly ball to center field.

“I always say, if you walk someone, something bad always happens,” said Kirby. “That’s why I stress it so much. I’m really glad I came back in the zone for that.”

Kirby credited catcher Tom Murphy for his game plan, which resulted in a 43% whiff rate on his slider, a pitch Kirby used to finish two of his strikeouts.

On the offensive side, the Mariners followed Friday’s back-and-forth slugfest with two key hits: Julio Rodríguez’s two-run double in the third inning that just missed scaling the fence by a few inches, and Ty France’s two-out single in the eighth.

As has been the case since the trade that sent closer Paul Sewald to Arizona, Seattle has had to figure out a new late-inning plan in the days since. On Saturday, Matt Brash was called upon in the eighth to preserve a 3-1 lead, and was greeted by Renfroe’s leadoff single.

Brash recovered, escaping the threat with a double-play ball off the bat of Randal Grichuk, made possible by a fantastic diving play and flip from shortstop J.P. Crawford, who shoveled the ball to José Caballero at second to start the twin-killing.

“He’s having an unbelievable year,” said Servais of Crawford. “I think people look around the game and maybe don’t appreciate what he brings every day. I know we do. The entire Mariners organization does. He’s our guy.”

Crawford also drew two walks on the night, tying a Mariners franchise record and matching Ken Griffey Jr. (1993) and Jay Buhner (1994) with his 10th straight game with at least one free pass.

“He’s playing at the top of his game,” Servais said. “The unbelievable play up the middle, the quality of the at-bats, what he brings to the clubhouse every day. He checks all the boxes, and I love having him as our shortstop.”

Things got tense in the ninth for reliever Andrés Muñoz when C.J. Cron walked, Mike Moustakas singled and Brandon Drury hit a ground-rule double to left field to trim the lead to one. With one out to go, Muñoz intentionally walked Mickey Moniak to load the bases before securing his fifth save by striking out Renfroe on a 98 mph fastball and nailing down the Mariners’ fifth consecutive series victory.

“We’re putting it all together,” said Kirby of his team’s winning streak.

This hot stretch is one the Mariners (59-52) hope to continue as their postseason aspirations remain in view. After their fifth straight series victory, they are 2 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card race.