CHICAGO – The true initiation into the Mariners’ fraternity of starting pitchers isn’t making your Major League Baseball debut or even notching your first win. No, it’s delivering a solid outing that gives your team a chance for victory and sets you up for a win only to see neither materialize due to a lack of run support.
Welcome to the club, Matt Brash. Perhaps Felix Hernandez can someday present you with your official member’s jacket.
On a cold and blustery Tuesday afternoon, fitting of Chicago’s south side in April, Brash, a skinny, hard-throwing kid from Kingston, Ontario, made his big league debut, starting against the White Sox, picked to win a second straight American League Central title with a lineup of mashers at the top of the order.
With a 16-year-old’s appearance and facial hair, and a veteran’s intensity, Brash produced a first outing that was everything the Mariners could have wanted – 5⅓ innings, two runs allowed on four hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
Brash was dominant at times, overwhelming White Sox hitters with a fastball that reached 98-99 mph multiple times and breaking pitches that moved like a Wiffle ball in the 15-17 mph winds.
And, yet, it wasn’t enough.
The anemic offensive start to the 2022 season continued for the Mariners hitters as they squandered Brash’s start by producing yet another subpar showing at the plate in a disappointing 3-2 loss.
“What an effort by Matt Brash,” manager Scott Servais said. “His first major league outing and to go out against a high-caliber, high-powered offense that the White Sox have with the way he commanded the strike zone, just in total control the game, really excited for him.”
With his family and several friends from college making the trip to Guaranteed Rate Field to watch him pitch in the White Sox home opener, Brash came out with the same mentality as he had in spring training starts – be aggressive, trust your stuff and don’t be afraid.
“That’s kind of my game plan every time is just attack these hitters,” he said. “I was trying to get ahead early with off-speed and fastball. I thought I did really good job with that. I was just attacking them, treating them like anybody else. I’m just kind of doing my own thing.”
His own thing included not spending a lot of time poring over scouting reports on a lineup that featured Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jimenez in the top five spots.
“I’m gonna be honest with you,” he said. “I didn’t do a lot of scouting report stuff. I kind of have my first game plan. I kind of stick with that for whatever hitter it is and I kind of just throw my best pitch most often and just attack hitters. I didn’t try to do anything special or anything like that.”
The Mariners have lost three games in a row and have been held to two runs in the past two games.
After being shut out less than 24 hours earlier in Minnesota, Servais saw improvement in a majority of the at-bats. After hitting only three balls with exit velocities of more than 95 mph vs. the Twins, the Mariners had 12 balls in play that registered exit velocities of 95 mph or higher, including seven at least 100 mph. They had seven hits and worked six walks, but they were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners on base.
“I thought our at-bats today for most of the guys were really good,” Servais said. “We did square a lot of balls up.”
The Mariners momentarily thought they had 2-0 lead in the first inning. Following a Jesse Winker walk, Mitch Haniger hit a ball to left-center right into the gusting wind off White Sox starter Vince Velasquez. The high fly ball, which traveled 377 feet, died in the last 30 feet and was caught at the wall.
Eugenio Suarez provided the first run for Seattle, pulling a lower liner through the wind for a solo homer to left field off Chicago starter Vince Velasquez in the second inning.
But the crusher came in the third. Adam Frazier and Ty France worked back-to-back one-out walks and Winker smashed a ball to deep right-center. Robert, playing Winker to hit it to left-center, chased down the ball and made a leaping grab while crashing into the wall. It saved at least a pair of runs in the inning.
Chicago tied the score in the third. After retiring the first seven batters he faced, Brash issued his only walk of the game to Josh Harrison. Reese McGuire singled to right field for Chicago’s first hit off Brash.
Even with runners on first and third with one out, Brash should’ve been out of the inning when Anderson hit a hard ground ball to J.P. Crawford. But the Mariners’ stalwart shortstop bobbled what seemed like a certain inning-ending double-play ball.
The White Sox grabbed the lead in the sixth with Brash nearing his mid-80s pitch limit. On a 2-2 count to the dangerous Robert, Brash left a curveball over the plate. The mistake pitch was hammered through the wind into the center-field seats for a solo homer.
Chicago tacked on another run in the eighth when Diego Castillo issued a leadoff walk to Robert and then basically ignored him as a base runner. Robert took advantage of it, stealing second and third base. The free bases led to a key run when Jimenez beat out a possible inning-ending double play on a ground ball to Crawford.
That insurance run loomed large in the ninth. Crawford reached on a one-out single off White Sox closer Liam Hendriks. France and Winker followed with two-out singles to score Crawford and cut the lead to 3-2 instead of tying the score. Haniger struck out to end the game.