While playing out the schedule can be a challenge, the Seattle Mariners seem to be embracing it. On Thursday, the Mariners will look for their fifth straight win and a three-game series sweep of the host Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Mariners (64-88), who are on their final road trip of the season, not only are remaining competitive, but they also are using the final weeks of the season in a way that can be productive for teams out of the playoff chase.
Specifically, they are giving some young players a chance to get a little grounded in the major leagues.
Outfielder Kyle Lewis, for instance, homered Wednesday, giving him five long balls in eight big league games.
The less experienced players are finding things conducive to fit in with Seattle.
“What a great clubhouse to have here,” first baseman Austin Nola, a 29-year-old rookie, told MLB.com earlier this week. “To be able to have the leadership we have here, the guys helping you out, it’s a big deal, to make you feel comfortable.”
Nola was 0-for-4 Wednesday but was coming off back-to-back games with three or more hits.
Pittsburgh, conversely, is struggling. The Pirates have lost five consecutive games by a combined 57-16.
They are playing without several regulars, at least a few of whom might not return this season. Not only has the pitching struggled, but the offense has dried up. Pittsburgh went 21 innings without a run before collecting its lone run in the eighth inning Wednesday during a 4-1 loss.
In the series finale Thursday, Seattle left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (6-10, 5.46 ERA) is scheduled to face Pittsburgh right-hander Joe Musgrove (10-12, 4.52 ERA).
Musgrove has a shot at getting his record back to .500 before the season ends and giving himself something to build on.
After three straight losses, he has stacked together back-to-back wins, including Sept. 12, when he struck out seven and pitched five scoreless, four-hit innings with no walks in a 4-2 win at San Francisco.
He also tripled and scored in that game.
Musgrove has already reached career highs in starts (30), innings (159 1/3) and strikeouts (143). With the likes of Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer having been out for some time and for the remainder of the season, Musgrove has become something of the de facto ace and a locker room leader.
“It’s something that’s new for me,” Musgrove said. “I feel like I’ve always had the label of being somewhat of a leader, but I’ve never been a verbal leader. I’ve always just done things the right way. But we have a lot of young guys in here, so someone’s going to have to step up and take that role. I don’t want it to be just me.”
He could use a win at home. He has lost three straight decisions at PNC Park.
Against Seattle, Musgrove is 1-1 with a 7.50 ERA along with a save in five career appearances, three of them starts and all of them while with Houston in 2017.
Kikuchi has never started against the Pirates.
Like Musgrove, Kikuchi will be making his 31st start. His last time out, he gave up five runs and 10 hits in just 2 1/3 innings during a 9-7 loss against the Chicago White Sox on Friday.
–Field Level Media