SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners turned to George Kirby to close out the team’s wild-card sweep against Toronto.
Logan Gilbert gets the ball for Seattle’s return to the AL Division Series.
The Mariners have two of baseball’s best young arms in Kirby and Gilbert, and they are hoping the right-handers are ready for a deep postseason run.
Gilbert takes the mound for Game 1 of the ALDS at Houston on Tuesday after Kirby got the save in Seattle’s wild 10-9 win at Toronto, sending the Mariners into the next round in the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2001.
Seattle views each pitcher as a vital component of its future. The 25-year-old Gilbert was a first-round pick in the 2018 amateur draft, and the 24-year-old Kirby was a first-round selection in 2019. Both are under club control through at least 2027.
The development of Gilbert and Kirby is a big reason why the Mariners are optimistic about their pitching situation going forward, no matter what happens this month. They also have Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo and a handful of other prospects.
“We felt good about our starting rotation entering the season, we feel really good about it now,” Seattle President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto said. “And if we can keep these guys healthy and doing what they do it should be fun for a lot of years.”
At times this season, Gilbert was one of the best pitchers in the American League. He was the AL pitcher of the month in April when he started four games, allowed one earned run and had 22 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings.
One of the hallmarks of Gilbert’s sophomore season was his consistency. He pitched at least five innings in 31 of 32 starts. He allowed three earned runs or less 26 times.
Outside of two starts against the Yankees mid-summer and a bad outing in Kansas City late in the season, Gilbert was unflappable. And that included four starts against the Astros when he pitched well enough to win each time. Gilbert shut out Houston for seven innings back in May and threw six innings and allowed three runs or less in his other three starts against the Astros.
But Gilbert hasn’t pitched since Sept. 30, the night Seattle clinched a playoff spot, when he threw a career-high eight innings and allowed one run.
“It’s, if anything, good to get a little extra rest, especially at this point in the year,” he said.
For all the talent Gilbert has, his preparation also played a major factor in his success this season. That started in the offseason when he went to work on reshaping the look of his breaking pitches. The result was a harder slider and a significant uptick in his curveball velocity from where both were during his rookie season.
“What we saw from the first day of spring training, this guy was a different animal,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He spent so much time developing his secondary pitches and we all knew what kind of fastball he had. Really (he) should have made the All-Star team.”
Kirby’s first season followed a similar path as Gilbert’s rookie year in 2021. Kirby started off in the minors, but by early May was making his debut with six shutout innings and seven strikeouts against Tampa Bay. And that’s what has stood out the most about Kirby — his command of the strike zone. He set a major league record during a start in August against Washington, throwing 24 consecutive strikes to start the game. It led Servais to joke they needed to teach Kirby to throw a ball every now and then.
Kirby threw a career-high 130 innings and had 133 strikeouts. His velocity had dropped slightly in his final two starts of the season, but he hit 99 mph with his fastball while making his first career relief appearance against the Blue Jays. It’s a role he could repeat against Houston — or he could end up as a starter later in the series.
“I thought I did a great job. I was able to make adjustments during the year that ultimately made me a lot better,” Kirby said. “And yeah, I was just super excited to get the chance I did in May and I tried to take advantage of it.”
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