Mariners 'sensitive' in building pitching talent

July 31st, 2021

It’s no secret that Seattle’s farm system, along with its current Major League team, are rife with pitching talent.

With Logan Gilbert leading the charge for the Mariners at the big league level and Seattle's No. 3-ranked prospect, Emerson Hancock, and No. 4-ranked prospect, George Kirby, continuing to develop in the Minor Leagues, the club has all the makings for a frontline trio that mirrors that of other contending teams like the Brewers in the near future.

However, with the lack of a Minor League season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a delayed start to the ‘21 Minors season, the Mariners' plan for managing the innings of its young pitchers throughout the system down the stretch is one of curiosity, and one that general manager Jerry Dipoto was candid about in his post Trade Deadline press conference on Friday.

“We've been very conservative in how we're progressing our guys,” Dipoto said. “And we knew this was going to be a light-innings year across our system to the extent that we even set up piggyback situations at Minor League levels, where there were two starters for a game, six-man rotations from the A levels on through Triple-A, trying to make sure that we were attentive to the notion that it was going to be a difficult transition for these guys coming back after little to no work in 2020.

“We've been sensitive to that.”

Hancock was scratched from the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Denver due to a minor shoulder injury, and he recently made his return to action on Wednesday, firing 1 1/3 scoreless innings for High-A Everett.

Meanwhile, Kirby, who is also pitching for Everett, is currently sidelined with shoulder fatigue but is expected back relatively soon. He last pitched on July 10, having tossed seven innings of one-run ball.

Amid the backdrop of having no Minor League season last year and a rash of pitcher injuries across the league at all levels, the Mariners are asking their players to be honest about their bodies.

“We have urged all of our players to be honest with us about what they're feeling in a moment,” Dipoto said. “And when they feel anything, we're more likely to back off the gas than put our foot down.”

Dipoto added that the organization doesn’t think it's necessary that players pitch 120-150 innings this season, adding, “We just need to get them their professional experience and start building, and I think that's happening.”

On the subject of Gilbert, Dipoto believes that the young right-hander is in a good spot innings-wise as the month of July comes to a close.

Including Friday’s win, his fifth of the season, Gilbert has logged 62 1/3 innings at the Major League level across 13 starts with two months of the season remaining, and potentially a third via the postseason in play.

He additionally logged five innings of Minor League action prior to his recall.

“Right now, we feel like we're on a reasonable to almost ideal target,” said Dipoto of Gilbert’s innings count.

Because of the delayed start of the Minor League season, coupled with the Mariners' decision to slow play Gilbert in Spring Training as well as some shoulder fatigue, Gilbert is right where the team wants him.

“He has not piled on a lot of innings more than what you're seeing right now,” Dipoto added.

The 24-year-old has compiled a 4.04 ERA and 73 strikeouts as the Mariners have now consecutively won his last 11 starts.

His ability to pitch into September will certainly bode well for a Mariners team that has found itself contending for an AL Wild Card spot.

“You've seen roughly the extent of it,” Dipoto added. “We think he's in great shape.”