The Seattle Mariners (18-11) notched their first walk-off win of the season, 5-4, over the Texas Rangers in 11 innings on Friday night at T-Mobile Park.
Here are three takeaways from the win.
1. SHEFFIELD LABORS IN DEBUT
Top prospect Justus Sheffield’s debut with the Mariners was shorter than planned. The 22-year-old rookie left-hander labored through three innings, struggling to command the fastball he heavily relied on against the 14 batters he faced, but ultimately left after the fourth with a 3-2 lead.
Sheffield, whose control often faltered in four appearances with Triple-A Tacoma before his Friday morning call-up, never quite settled in to give Seattle the more lengthy outing manager Scott Servais had hoped for.
“He’s got pitches. He’s got weapons. He’s got stuff,” Servais said. “There’s no question about that. He’s got to refine it a little bit and get in a groove like what we saw early in spring training.”
Sheffield entered in the second inning as scheduled, in relief for Yusei Kikuchi’s scheduled abbreviated start, but it took him nearly 20 minutes to register his first three outs. He threw 31 pitches in the second, allowed a leadoff single to Hunter Pence, and walked a pair of batters before retiring the side by striking out Danny Santana.
The third inning was somewhat smoother. Sheffield needed 17 pitches to retire the Rangers in order, including striking out Rougned Odor to retire the side.
“I feel like at some points during the game I was able to slow down and make my pitches,” Sheffield said. “It gets a lot easier when you get ahead and attack the guys. Once I was able to settle down a little bit I felt a little more comfortable.”
But, his pitch count climbed rapidly in the fourth. He walked two batters, and served up a two-run homer to Nomar Mazara that cut an early Mariners lead to 3-2. Sheffield worked through six batters that final inning, and struck out Santana for the second time to wrap up his 75-pitch outing.
He allowed two earned runs on two hits while walking four and striking out three. He threw first-pitch strikes to only six batters, and eight of the batters he faced worked three-ball counts.
Sheffield threw his fastball 48 times, and leaned on his slider 23. The latter proved his punchout pitch. Each of the three inning-ending strikeouts he recorded came on 85 mph sliders. His fastball reached as high as 95 mph, but mostly hovered in the 91-94 mph range.
2. BULLPEN STRETCHED
Japanese rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi acted as an opener Friday, pitching one inning in his planned abbreviated start before Sheffield took over in the second.
Kikuchi threw just nine pitches in a 1-2-3 inning, and struck out both Odor and Elvis Andrus.
His short start is part of a season-long experiment the Mariners have drawn up to help him adjust to the regular five-day rotation most MLB clubs practice. In Japan, where Kikuchi spent the past eight seasons, starters only pitch once per week.
“I think I had really good balance, and this is definitely going to carry over to my next start, but as a competitor, as a pitcher, I did want to throw that next inning,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak.
Because of the opener setup with Kikuchi, and Sheffield’s short outing, the Mariners had to burn six more relievers — Connor Sadzeck, Zac Rosscup, Cory Gearrin, Brandon Brennan, Anthony Swarzak and Roenis Elias — to close the extra-innings game.
Sadzeck, Rosscup and Gearrin each held the Rangers scoreless in their stints, but Texas tagged Brennan with a run in the eighth on a double to left center by Mazara to make it 4-3. The Rangers then put runners on the corners with one out, but Brennan handled a grounder from Logan Forsythe, and initiated a 1-4-3 double play to end the inning without further damage.
Swarzak gave up the tying run with one out in the ninth. Former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo pinch hit, and sent a solo shot to right to make it 4-4. Swarzak then walked two batters before first baseman Edwin Encarnacion pulled in a screaming line drive to end the inning.
Elias (2-0, 2.16 ERA) retired the side in order in the 10th and 11th to earn the win.
3. PARROT TAKES A RIDE
Mariners veteran Edwin Encarnacion launched his seventh home run of the season into the left field bleachers in the third, giving the Mariners an early 3-0 lead.
Encarnacion’s dinger provided enough offensive punch in the third to keep the Mariners in front most of the way. The three-run homer sailed 434 feet, exiting his bat at nearly 113 mph. Domingo Santana and Daniel Vogelbach scored on the play.
It was the 58th homer of the season for the Mariners, who continue to lead the majors in that category.
Encarnacion added his fourth RBI of the game in the fifth inning, singling in Mitch Haniger to push the lead to 4-2 at that point.