Scott Servais wouldn’t take credit for it. And he wouldn’t share who actually came up with the concept. But when the Mariners manager was asked about his team’s relentless approach at the plate early in the season and its ability to torment starting pitchers, he talked about an observation made by someone in the baseball operations department.
“It was brought to my attention today that it’s a little different philosophy in that it’s ‘nine against one,’ instead of one against one.” he said. “When you start thinking about it that way, it is really how our guys are wired and are coming together. It’s a great way to look at what we are doing right now and that’s our approach.”
It is a different but simplistic outlook. Baseball can be a very individualistic team sport. Much is made of that one-on-one between pitcher and hitter. But when it comes to a starting pitcher, why not view at as nine vs. one? After all, the starter’s is trying to retire every hitter in the order at least two to three times. The sum of those individual confrontations would usually offer greater meaning and influence on the outcome than just one at-bat.
The nine against one mentality is working for the Mariners. Following Tuesday night’s 6-3 win over the Royals, where they forced KC starter Jakob Junis out of the game after four innings and 93 pitches thrown, the Mariners made it 12 out of 13 games where the opposing starter pitcher failed to pitch six complete innings.
Only once this season has an opposing starter finished six full innings against Seattle. That came in the homestand finale vs. the Angels where right-hander Trevor Cahill tossed six innings, allowing one run on three hits with five strikeouts. Of the remaining 12 outings, only four starters have pitched five complete innings while four have pitched three innings or fewer.
Opposing starting pitchers have thrown a total of 53 innings vs. Seattle this season while allowing 64 runs for a 10.87 ERA. They are averaging just four innings and 83.5 pitches per start. The Mariners have scored four runs or more off the opposing starter in all but two games.
Fans love the “bash-ball” that they’ve been playing to start the season. It includes homering in each of their first 13 games and an American League-leading 33 homers, which is tied for a MLB record for most in that span. Still the Mariners know that the approach at the plate vs. opposing pitchers is vastly more significant and sustainable than the results.
“The depth of our lineup and the quality of the at-bats we are putting together are exceptional,” said veteran first baseman/outfielder Jay Bruce. “It’s something that we are advantage of as a team because no matter you rosy-colored the glasses are that you look through, it’s not going to be like this all year. We are just trying to get good pitches to hit. It’s a pretty consistent team-wide approach and a team-wide philosophy.”
The Mariners’ starting pitchers marvel at what their teammates are doing to their counterparts. They know how frustrating it is to feel your pitch count keep building, quality pitches either fouled off or taken for a ball and exiting after the fourth inning.
“It doesn’t look fun,” said Marco Gonzales. “These guys are putting together some great at-bats and they are controlling the zone. We are trying get into team’s bullpens, especially early in the series. For these guys to come out and knock out some starting pitchers early, that’s huge.”
At some point this season, the home runs won’t be as frequent and the run-scoring won’t seem as easy, the Mariners understand it. But the continued grind on starting pitchers can and should continue. It will still lead to positive results more often than not. And if they stray, Servais will just remind them at it’s “nine against one.”
“Our guys get deep in counts, we foul off a lot of pitches, we take close pitches,” Servais said. “That’s fun to watch every night.”