How Mariners plan to battle adversity in '23

April 5th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer's Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- Adversity struck the Mariners when Robbie Ray was placed on the 15-day injured list with a left flexor strain last weekend, sidelining Seattle’s workhorse for at least four to six weeks. Adversity also mounted to a lesser extent after four frustrating losses following their Opening Day win.

Ray’s absence is a blow to their rotation, especially given his ability to eat innings, having led the team with 189 last year, and pitching arm injuries are always alarming.

Attrition isn’t the only form of adversity. Losing streaks, lengthy road trips and more can -- and probably will -- impact even World Series teams throughout the six-month season.

“I don’t think we’ve played very good baseball, quite honestly.” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We're capable of playing much, much better and our guys know that. And we will.”

Here’s why the Mariners are better equipped to handle adversity than in years past:

They have more depth

Stretching out Chris Flexen this spring proved to be extremely prudent, perhaps just as much as not trading him despite having an influx of starting pitchers and a viable trade partner in the Yankees, who have a few middle infielders that the Mariners might have benefited from acquiring.

The Mariners never really toyed with the idea of filling utility infielder Dylan Moore's (left oblique strain) role externally because they’re confident with in-house options Sam Haggerty, who switch-hits but far better righty, and lefty-hitting Tommy La Stella.

It’s not the ideal scenario, but it’s a far better situation than two years ago, when the Mariners were rolling out Triple-A pitchers to make spot starts and had to use Jarred Kelenic in center field every day as he struggled through his rookie season because they had no other options after Kyle Lewis got hurt.

“It's tough, especially at this point in the season because Robbie is the best guy out there,” Logan Gilbert said. “Honestly, he's helped me a ton. ... It's a tough start, but I know the team is going to find a way to pull together, and we'll have him back later in the year when the games really matter.”

There's clear accountability

J.P. Crawford spoke sternly in a self-assessment on Sunday, as did Cal Raleigh, who beat himself up after a costly error that allowed Cleveland to score the game-winning run in that contest. The clubhouse’s atmosphere felt like the Mariners had lost a late-September game rather than one that began in March.

“We didn't play good baseball this weekend,” Raleigh said. “Whether it's in the field, running the bases, certain at-bats, filling up the zone, it's not just everybody else, it's me included. We didn't play our best baseball and that's on us. We've got to correct it and get back at it again.”

Even the newcomers, like second baseman Kolten Wong, have caught on.

“It's kind of held to a standard now here, which I love,” said Wong, who’s reached the postseason six times in his nine-year career. “All the coaches are holding us to standards and you can feel it through the fans and you feel in the clubhouse that this is a place where we expect to win.”

They’ve been through it before

It’s not that the Mariners didn’t possess accountability with its nucleus of leadership the past two years, but it’s taken a pretty significant spiral to turn things around. Last year, it was when they fell 10 games under .500 in mid-June and gave up five homers to the Angels’ Mike Trout in one series. In 2021, it was after they were outscored, 31-7, in a sweep in San Diego in late May, and they weren’t swept again.

Maybe they won’t need a turning point this year.

“We were kind of a younger group last year, so with the experience that we have now, the addition of some of the veteran guys, I think it just makes our team stronger,” Ty France said. “There's not going to be any panic from this group.”

Most of the roster was here each of the past two years, experienced the bleakest days and saw what was needed to rally out of them.

“When they don't make a play or didn't finish it off the way they wanted to, they'll stand up and take accountability for it,” Servais said. “They're good teammates. They get it. I think it's the best way to go through life. When you make a mistake, say, 'I made a mistake.' And you move on to the next day.”