August 15, 2022

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Kirby, Mariners show 'a lot of grit' but fall in extras

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HOUSTON — The circumstances surrounding Sunday afternoon’s game were tough. With injuries piling up, the Mariners needed a near-perfect start from George Kirby to have a chance in the series finale. 

With an already struggling offense depleted by injuries, the Mariners needed their pitching to keep them in the game, leaving virtually no room for error for rookie starter Kirby. The righty gave Seattle a chance, but it fell, 3-2, in 10 innings to Houston at Minute Maid Park. 

“Our pitching today was outstanding,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “[It] kept us in the ballgame when nothing was going on offensively.”

Kirby’s impressive start to the season has carried over to his recent outings, as he’s kept evolving every time over the past month, when he debuted a new pitch: a two-seam fastball. 

Kirby knew that the next step of his game was being efficient with his pitches, and the two-seamer — which he learned from teammate Robbie Ray — will help him accomplish that, as it is more likely to produce weak contact. The pitch became Kirby’s fifth pitch in his repertoire.

The improvement was evident in Kirby’s last start against the Rangers, when he needed just 51 pitches to get through five scoreless innings on Tuesday. His efficiency is crucial, as the Mariners are monitoring his workload.

The limit for Kirby on Sunday was 75 pitches, which was set by Servais pregame. It was going to be tough, as he faced a dangerous Astros lineup for the first time in his career. Trouble appeared early as Kirby allowed two runs and threw 31 pitches in the first inning.

Kirby could not afford a short outing, given the bullpen has been stretched thin all series long as no starter went longer than six innings.  

“I just collected myself, breathed in the dugout and just tried to calm down,” Kirby said. “It was super important [to reel back in and go few more innings]. It comes down to executing, and I was able to do that for the last three innings and not get into the bullpen too early. That was huge for the team.”

Kirby settled down and was able to work four innings, holding the Astros scoreless after the first. He allowed three hits and threw 74 pitches, and most importantly, he gave the rest of the team a chance to come back. That was a chance the Mariners took advantage of late in the game, when Jesse Winker hit a two-run homer off of Astros reliever Ryne Stanek to tie it in the eighth inning. 

The bullpen continued to be solid and kept the Mariners in the game, but after Seattle failed to score in the top of the 10th, Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez won it with a walk-off single.

“Our guys played with a lot of grit,” Servais said. “We don’t quit no matter the situation and who we are playing, which is a great sign for the team.”

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