HOUSTON — Mariners rookie Matt Brash’s raw stuff helped him skyrocket through Seattle’s farm system last year and into the Opening Day rotation. But his inability to harness it since breaking camp with the big league team continues to be an ongoing issue. And after Wednesday’s 7-2 loss to the Astros, the right-hander is still searching for answers.
His counterpart, Justin Verlander, helped Houston shut down Seattle for the third day in a row after being shut out the first two games of the series. The Mariners logged just 14 hits in these three games, all singles until Eugenio Suárez’s seventh-inning homer, and they collectively compiled a slash line of .157/.211/.191 (.402 OPS) in 89 at-bats. Seattle’s struggles at this venue continued, as it has now lost 26 of 30 dating back to the start of 2019.
Wednesday’s loss dipped the club below .500 for the first time since April 16 — coincidentally, the last time they faced Verlander — and capped a 2-7 road trip that began with the Mariners in first place in the American League West. At 12-13, they’re now third.
“It’s time to go home,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s been a long road trip. Certainly, things have not gone our way.”
Suárez’s deep fly was the Mariners’ first extra-base hit since Julio Rodríguez’s first career homer during the sixth inning on Sunday in Miami. Their bats going quiet at a ballpark that they’ve struggled at was distressing, but Brash is more of a concern.
After allowing four runs in 10 2/3 innings (3.38 ERA) in his first two career starts — including a win against the Astros on April 17 — Brash has given up 13 runs in 9 1/3 innings (12.53 ERA) in his past three outings. That production paints an alarming picture, but it’s how Brash is finding himself in jams that’s more of an issue: 28 of the 53 hitters he’s faced in his past three starts have reached base.
“Everything feels good,” Brash said. “I feel great. I’m just not executing. I just need to be better. I felt good today, just got into bad counts, walked guys, and I can’t be doing that.”
Brash has some of the best stuff in Seattle’s system, with a fastball approaching 100 mph and breaking balls that look like frisbees. But this isn’t Spring Training anymore, when teams weren’t rolling out ‘A’ lineups.
Part of why Brash leads the Majors with a 17.9% walk rate is two-fold: his breaking balls have mostly landed outside the strike zone, and as such, whenever opposing hitters see movement, they’ve typically waited him out for his fastball.
And when Brash is in-zone with his secondary pitches, it’s been mostly middle-middle — such as the consecutive base hits on Wednesday by Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman that scored three runs in the second inning. It certainly didn’t help facing Houston, which makes contact on in-zone swings more than any team in the Majors, at 87.6%.
“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.”
Brash also made a mechanical adjustment when pitching out of the stretch, moving his glove closer to his waist with the ball more hidden, compared to more away from his body at shoulder height.
“Just watching video and stuff, it might’ve looked like I was tipping pitches,’ Brash said. “I was showing my glove to the [runner] on second and stuff, so I made the adjustment to have it a little lower, hide the ball a little better.”
It all illustrates a young pitcher who possesses superb but developing talent — which leads to the question of whether Brash would be better suited sorting out his kinks with a few starts in the Minors. His upside is sky high and he’s a big part of Seattle’s long term plans, but he’s also just 23 years old.
“It’s challenging for young players coming into the league,” Servais said. “You have to be patient with them. But you want to see growth, and when you stop seeing growth, and then it’s, ‘Where are we at? And do we need to take a step back? Do we need to back off the gas here a little bit?’ So we’ll continue to monitor where he’s at. And he’s a very young player, a very inexperienced player, and you want to do what’s best for the player.”