SEATTLE – On this night, the doubters, the nonbelievers and the naysayers, who questioned their place in the league and any possible future success, were silenced.
There likely won’t be another night quite like this where so many players with fair to legitimate question marks about their place in the Major League Baseball landscape going into this season and beyond will contribute in such a collaborative fashion to secure a win
Then again, it wouldn’t be difficult for a scout to can go down the Mariners’ roster, or several other teams’ rosters, and find the possibility of failure for nearly every player.
But it was noticeable in the Mariners’ 4-0 victory over the Giants, which gave them a series win to start the season, that the players most responsible for the success all fit that description or projection in some way.
It started with the starting pitcher, Chris Flexen.
The right-hander washed out of MLB after the 2019 season following three unimpressive seasons shuttling between the Mets and the Triple-A affiliate.
He was out of shape, ineffective and lacking in confidence. It took him to the Korean Baseball Organization where he got his mind and body in proper shape, which included losing 40 pounds, rediscovering his curveball, improving his cutter and pitching with real success, which in turn led to confidence.
Still, when the Mariners signed him early in the offseason to a two-year contract and locked him into a spot in the six-man rotation, the collective reaction was, “Who the hell is Chris Flexen and why didn’t the Mariners sign a real pitcher?”
In his first MLB start since April 20, 2019, he pitched five shutout innings, allowing four hits with two walks and four strikeouts. His last appearance in a MLB game was Aug, 24, 2019.
And two of the pitchers who made sure it remained a shutout? Well, one is a former starting pitcher, who would still be starting if not for a benign bone tumor in his neck that leaves him in agony if he pitches more than a few innings. The other is a diminutive right-hander, who was mediocre as a starter, found success as a reliever and acquired to be the closer after notching all of eight saves last season for the Rangers.
In his first appearance of the season, Kendall Graveman was absolutely dominant in relief of Flexen. With his sinking fastball sitting at 97-98 mph and touching 99 mph, and improved slider that he worked on all offseason and all spring, Graveman tossed two shutout innings, striking out the side in the sixth and striking out two of three batters he faced in the seventh. The only runner allowed was a hit by pitch.
Meanwhile closer Rafael Montero, who allowed a game-tying homer on opening night, entered the game with two outs in the eighth to clean up a minor mess made by Anthony Misiewicz. With the help of a nice play J.P. Crawford on a tough short-hop ground ball, Montero ended the threat. With an on-field demeanor that could be considered cadaverous, he coolly notched his first save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The final run for the Mariners came when Mitch Haniger clobbered a solo homer in the seventh. Haniger’s journey back to the field is well-documented. But he’s offering a reminder of just how good he can be when he’s healthy.