If there were any concerns about the Cleveland Guardians’ ability to face left-handed pitching in the offseason, they are going to be put to the test in their very first series against the Seattle Mariners.
The Guards open their 2023 campaign on the road in not-so-sunny Seattle facing a pair of lefties that the Mariners hope can help carry them into the postseason for consecutive seasons. Before even getting to those, the Guardians will need to navigate Luis Castillo, a killer right-hander with a fastball in the upper-90s and owner of a sub-3.00 ERA last season.
Castillo is a veteran of the great Ohio Cup battles of the past as a long-time member of the Cincinnati Reds. He was freed from that Kentucky prison midway through last season and recorded 77 strikeouts in 65.1 innings with the Mariners. Along with his fastball, he features a slider and a changeup that isn’t quite as remarkable as it once was. At his peak, Castillo was generating whiffs 47.8% of the time with the change, but that dropped to 26.1% last year as his overall whiff rate has also dipped.
As for those lefties, the Guardians will first face Robbie Ray, the man with a slider as tight as his pants. Predominantly a four-seam/slider guy for most of his career, Ray incorporated a sinker last year and started using his slider more, a career-high 37.2% of the time. Most of Ray’s success doesn’t come from one dominating pitch, but from how effectively he uses all of them. Like Shane Bieber, he tunnels his pitches extremely well — everything spins and looks the same out of his hand, but breaks differently enough to fool batters. He finished last season with a 3.71 ERA and one of the lowest walk rates of his career (8.0%).
Saturday’s contest between Logan Gilbert and Aaron Civale is a battle of two pitchers that share some similarities. Neither have the outstanding peripherals to suggest they’ll outperform expectations, but somehow they do (or have in the past, in Civale’s case). Both give up a lot of fly balls, and both throw a wide array of pitches, with Gilbert bringing a four-seamer, slider, curveball, changeup, sinker, and a newly developed splitter into the equation. What Gilbert has that Civale lacks is power — his fastball averaged 96 mph last season and the lanky arms on his 6’6” frame give him some of the best extension in the game, which makes his heaters seem even heaty-er.
The second lefty will conclude the series on Sunday. Thirty-one-year-old Marco Gonzales is a typical “crafty lefty” pitcher in that he uses a lot of changeups to take down right-handed batters. His change was once a pitch that had him as a high-ranking St. Louis Cardinals prospect, and he has spun it (literally and figuratively) into a solid MLB career. It’s a frisbee-like pitch with virtually no drop but a lot of arm-side run. The key is to make contact against him, but good look doing it.
We’ll be seeing plenty of this Mariners team as seven of the Guardians’ next 10 games come against them. Thankfully the next round will be back in Cleveland beginning on April 7 with a more humane start time of 4:10 p.m. For now though, bust out the late-night coffee and make plans to sleep in tomorrow, because you’re not going to want to miss your first taste of 2023 Guardians baseball.
Thursday, March 30, 10:10 p.m. ET: RHP Luis Castillo vs. RHP Shane Bieber
Friday, March 31, 10:10 p.m. ET: LHP Robbie Ray vs. RHP Hunter Gaddis
Saturday, April 1, 9:40 p.m. ET: RHP Logan Gilbert vs. RHP Aaron Civale
Sunday, April 2, 4:10 p.m. ET: LHP Marco Gonzales vs. RHP Cal Quantrill
How many games will the Guardians win against the Mariners?
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