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Seattle Mariners

Mariners rookie Matt Brash optioned back to AAA Tacoma after consecutive rough outings

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Matt Brash is pictured during a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals, Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Seattle. The Mariners won 13-7.  (Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The “hard lessons” learned in Major League Baseball as labeled by manager Scott Servais finally reached a point where the Mariners had to send rookie pitcher Matt Brash back to minor league baseball.

His latest outing, which lasted just two innings in a 7-2 loss to the Astros, provided another example of the talented right-hander being unable to harness his overpowering stuff including a blazing fastball and wipeout breaking pitches to the point of being effective.

Following an abysmal three-city road trip where they finished with a 2-7 record – the only two wins coming in games started by Logan Gilbert – the Mariners announced a slew of roster moves Thursday afternoon as they prepared to open a four-game series vs. the Tampa Bay Rays later that evening at T-Mobile Park.

The official roster moves:

• Right-handed pitcher Matt Brash optioned to Triple-A Tacoma (postgame Wednesday)

• Right-handed pitcher Matt Festa placed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow tendinitis (retroactive to Wednesday)

• Right-handed pitcher Riley O’Brien recalled from Triple-A Tacoma

• Left-handed pitcher Danny Young selected from Triple-A Tacoma

• Left-handed pitcher Nick Margevicius designated for assignment

• Right-handed pitcher Matt Koch has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Tacoma

“I talked to Matt (Brash) last night when we got back into town,” Servais said. “I just think he needs a reset. He certainly had a fantastic spring training, earned the right to be our fifth starter. He had some bright moments. He had some darker moments.”

So who will take Brash’s spot in the starting rotation? He is scheduled to start Monday vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at T-Mobile Park. It’s likely that is a roster move yet to be made with Seattle using Brash’s roster spot for an extra reliever until Monday.

“We’ve got some ideas,” Servais said. “We don’t have to make that call today. So we’ll do that here in the next few days.”

The popular choice would be top pitching prospect George Kirby, who has been outstanding with Double-A Arkansas since losing the competition with Brash in spring training for the last rotation spot.

In five starts with the Travelers, Kirby is 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA. In 24⅔ innings, Kirby has struck out 32 batters with only five walks.

He is scheduled to pitch for Arkansas on Sunday, but the Mariners could have him throw a bullpen session on Friday and have him ready to pitch for Monday on extra rest.

Seattle expected Kirby would debut this season. The biggest issue is his overall innings total. Having thrown just under 70 innings last season, the Mariners aren’t likely have Kirby pitch more than 100-110 innings this season.

It appears that Brash won’t be earning back his spot in the rotation. He will start transitioning to a relief role with the Rainiers.

“It’s an opportunity to get him on the mound more frequently,” Servais said. “A chance to get more work in for him and maybe a chance to impact us in a different role here as we go on later in our season.”

Servais compared the process to what the Mariners did with Edwin Diaz during the 2017 season. Diaz had never pitched above the Class AA level at the time.

While many opposing scouts believed Brash would eventually end up in the bullpen, it was a puzzling move to them for it to happen after just five starts.

“It seems premature,” said an AL scout.

The move isn’t necessarily permanent. It’s about trying to find value this season with the focus on winning instead of development.

“In the past, it was a little bit more looking out into the future,” Servais said. “We’re at a point where we’re really competing and fighting for a playoff spot, which is where we hope to be this year. I think he can help us out of the bullpen more than he could as a starter.”

In five starts, Brash had posted a 1-3 record with a 7.65 ERA with 19 strikeouts and 17 walks in 20 innings.

After looking dominant in spring training and outdueling Kirby to win the fifth spot in the opening day starting rotation, Brash looked solid in his MLB debut. Facing the White Sox in Chicago, he pitched 5⅓ innings, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and six strikeouts.

He earned his first MLB win in his second start against the Astros at T-Mobile Park despite walking six batters in 5⅓ innings. He allowed just two runs on two hits with five strikeouts.

Over his next three starts, Brash went 0-2 with a 12.54 ERA, allowing 13 runs on 18 hits in 9⅓ innings. He walked 10 batters and struck out only eight.

“That’s been probably one of my biggest issues – just not enough strikes to get chases,” Brash said. “So when they see spin, they’re just taking it because they know I’m not landing it for the majority of the time.”