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'Quiet assassin' Newsome impresses vs. LAD

@gregjohnsmlb
August 21, 2020

SEATTLE -- Ljay Newsome won’t wow anybody with his stuff on the mound or his words during interviews. But when it comes to efficiency, the 23-year-old rookie right-hander has a knack for getting the job done. The Mariners’ No. 29 prospect made his Major League debut in Thursday’s 6-1 loss

SEATTLE -- Ljay Newsome won’t wow anybody with his stuff on the mound or his words during interviews. But when it comes to efficiency, the 23-year-old rookie right-hander has a knack for getting the job done.

The Mariners’ No. 29 prospect made his Major League debut in Thursday’s 6-1 loss to the Dodgers and zipped through two perfect innings of relief before giving up a run on a solo homer to Cody Bellinger in his third frame.

It was an impressive showing against one of MLB’s premier offensive teams, and it displayed Newsome’s strongest trait, which is the willingness and ability to attack hitters and throw strikes with any of his pitches.

It’s one thing to do that in Class A Advanced Modesto and Double-A Arkansas, which is where Newsome thrived last season. But to follow the same script against Mookie Betts, Justin Turner and the high-powered Dodgers in his first time on a big league mound spoke volumes about a youngster who is fondly called “The Quiet Assassin” by Mariners manager Scott Servais.

“That was really cool to look back at,” Newsome said Friday. “But when I was out on the mound, it’s that competitiveness where I’m just going right after them with my best stuff. I’m trying to get ‘em out.”

Did making his debut live up to his expectations?

“Yes, it was amazing,” Newsome said. “I can’t even explain in words how great it was. It was fun.”

Servais loves the way Newsome attacks hitters and gets ahead in counts, and he enjoys teasing the youngster about his low-key personality, even during his MLB debut.

“He was as cool as expected,” Servais said. “I think the heart rate might have been going a little bit more on the first pitch he threw. Then after that, he calmed right down and does what he does. I love joking with him. You can barely get him to crack a smile once in a while.

“He threw some really good changeups the second inning he was out there, and he came off and I said, ‘Man, where have you been hiding that changeup?’ And then the next inning he leaves a changeup right down the middle to Bellinger and he knocks it into the seats. I told him I spoke too soon and he said, ‘Yeah, Skip, you killed me.’”

The ability to keep an even keel has served Newsome well as he’s risen through the Mariners’ system. He’s never been a high-profile prospect, getting drafted in the 26th round in 2015 out of Chopiticon High in Morganza, Md.

At 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, Newsome is not an imposing figure on the mound. But he locates a 91-92 mph fastball with precision and makes heavy use of a quality curve and improving changeup. Two years ago, he won the Mariners’ Minor League competition for controlling the zone, which meant an automatic invitation to big league camp as a 21-year-old who’d never pitched above Class A ball.

That early exposure served him well, as he closely observed his veteran teammates, adapted his own everyday routine and has worked his way onto the Mariners’ radar as a potential starting candidate.

“He’ll get opportunities more in that multi-inning role [for now],” Servais said. “If we do need somebody to make a spot start or something like that, I’d have no trouble firing him out there. You know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get strikes. He locates it really well and he gets ‘em swinging at that breaking ball because he’s ahead in the count.”

Short hops from T-Mobile Park
• First baseman Evan White was out of the lineup for a second straight day on Friday as he recovers from a bruised left knee, though Servais said the rookie was improving and could be available if needed.

• The versatile Dylan Moore initially was set to replace White again at first base, but he was a late scratch from Friday’s opener against the Rangers with a sore right wrist that he injured on a swing in Thursday’s game. Servais moved catcher Austin Nola to first base and started backup Joseph Odom behind the plate for a second straight day.

• The bullpen shuffle continued as veteran right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano was activated off the 10-day injured list and rookie southpaw Aaron Fletcher was called up from the alternate training site prior to Friday’s game.

Hirano was expected to be one of Seattle’s late-inning options this year after signing as a free agent, but the 36-year-old missed most of Summer Camp while dealing with COVID-19 and was just added to the alternate site in Tacoma, Wash., this week. Fletcher, 24, was acquired from the Nationals at the July 31 Trade Deadline last year and will be making his MLB debut.

• The Mariners had two bullpen openings after right-hander Erik Swanson was placed on the 10-day IL on Thursday with a strained right forearm and lefty Taylor Guilbeau landed on the 10-day IL on Friday with a strained left shoulder. They joined five other relievers already on the IL: Austin Adams, Brandon Brennan, Carl Edwards Jr., Gerson Bautista and Nestor Cortes.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.