If Erik Swanson’s next start is like his first, watch out.
“Erik Swanson was outstanding,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after Swanson’s first major league start last week — a 1-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
“Really in control from the first batter he faced. Just a nice rhythm with all of his pitches. Obviously his fastball has got a little life, a little hop to it, getting it by some guys.”
Swanson (0-1, 3.38 ERA) worked six innings, allowing one run on two hits and striking out five in his starting debut against Cleveland last Wednesday. He was pitching in place of injured starter Wade LeBlanc, who was placed on the injured list with a strained oblique.
On Tuesday, Swanson — part of the Mariners haul from the New York Yankees in the James Paxton deal in November — is the presumed starter for the first game of a two-game series in San Diego against the Padres.
The club has now seen the 25-year-old pitch twice at the big-league level — once in relief, and once as a starter. In those outings Swanson has lived up to his billing of using a deceptive fastball to power his way past opposing hitters.
Against the Indians, he never faced more than four batters in an inning, held the Indians scoreless through the first four frames, and efficiently worked to an 81-pitch outing — 50 of which he threw for strikes.
“That was fun to play behind,” Mariners third baseman Ryon Healy said. “He was efficient with fastball, changeup, slider all in the zone. Attacking the zone early.
“Would not have guessed that was his first start out there, so that’s special.”
Swanson’s biggest weapon, of course, was his fastball, which he threw about 65 percent of the time during the outing. He went to his changeup for 21 percent his pitches, and mixed in his slider during his final four innings.
“I’m very fastball aggressive, and that was the game plan going into it, and I stuck with it,” Swanson said.
Swanson said he’s worked the past two years to consistently place his fastball high in the strike zone, and has had success with batters chasing.
“It’s something that’s developed,” he said. “It’s something I really started to do in 2017, and carried it over to last year and had a lot of success with it.
“I love going up to the top of the zone. My fastball, I think, plays well up there, and the last two seasons that’s just what I’ve been doing.”
Servais said Swanson’s fastball up in the zone is a big part of his game, and something he can offer the Mariners that mixes in well with other starters on the pitching staff.
“It’s easier said than done,” Servais said. “You have to have the right delivery. The ball has to have the right spin rates, the right hop on it. And (Swanson’s) got that.
“That’s something we recognized, and that’s why we went out and acquired him in the trade, and brought him in to give him an opportunity. It’s very effective, and certainly so different than a lot of our other pitchers.”
Swanson’s spinning fastball was mostly effective against the Indians. About half of the 18 outs he recorded came on a fastball, and about half on his changeup.
His heater consistently hovered between 90-93 mph, topping out 93.7.
The only blunder — which resulted in the only run of the game — came on a 91 mph fastball in the fifth that Cleveland’s Jake Bauers cranked over the center field fence.
“A little bit higher (in the zone) is where I wanted it,” Swanson said.
But, Swanson said he was satisfied with the start overall. The only other hit he allowed was on a changeup, which Bauers singled to center in the second inning.
“We talked about coming into the season as a year of opportunity,” Servais said. “A lot of young guys are going to get opportunities. He’s getting one, and he took advantage of one.”
Swanson made his MLB debut with Seattle in a relief appearance against Kansas City on April 11, tossing two innings, and allowing two runs on three hits while striking out four and walking two.
He heavily relied on his fastball then, too, throwing it for 36 of his 44 pitches. He touched as high as 95.6 mph in that outing, and mostly threw between 91-95 mph during his two innings.
Though his velocity was a tick lower during his start against Cleveland, Swanson said he doesn’t generally try to pace himself with velocity.
“I’m a guy who’s going to go out and go 100 percent, and pitch with whatever I have left,” he said.