‘I’m going to build off this.’ Mariners top prospect Justus Sheffield earns first win in best outing of season
By Lauren Smith
May 07, 2019 04:27 PM
Justus Sheffield during the game. The Tacoma Rainers played the Albuquerque Isotopes in a baseball game at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., on Friday, April 12, 2019.
Seattle Mariners top prospect Justus Sheffield notched his first win with the organization Monday night in Tacoma.
The 22-year-old left-hander, who has pitched in seven games this season, including six with Triple-A Tacoma, earned the milestone win in his fifth start with the Rainiers.
Sheffield (1-1, 3.76 ERA) tossed 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run — a solo homer — on four hits, struck out five and walked three, and Tacoma went on to top the Albuquerque Isotopes, 12-8. Sheffield threw 94 pitches, including 55 for strikes.
The win followed perhaps the most frustrating start of the season for Sheffield five days earlier, when he allowed five runs (two earned) while walking a season-high six batters.
“It felt good to contribute,” Sheffield said. “I think I’ve been pressing a little bit early on, just trying to find my groove, and really just doing too much. It felt good to actually contribute tonight, and contribute to a win, and we were able to pull it out.”
Rainiers manager Daren Brown said Monday’s outing was the best he’s seen Sheffield pitch so far this season.
“(He was) under control,” Brown said. “I thought he made a lot of good pitches. He was around the strike zone for the most part. It was good to see, especially after a tough last outing in Salt Lake.
“But, this is a little more probably (of what) we expect to see on a more consistent basis.”
Since arriving from the New York Yankees in the James Paxton trade this offseason, Sheffield has, at times, struggled to find control on the mound.
“He gets amped up to pitch,” Brown said. “It’s his day. Learning how to harness that and control it, and still go out and have the adrenaline to pitch, that’s a tough thing for a lot of young kids.”
He’s walked at least three batters in each of his six appearances with Tacoma, and walked four in three innings in his one appearance with the Mariners this season, making his club debut in relief as part of a Yusei Kikuchi abbreviated start.
Sheffield said he’s continued to work with Rainiers pitching coach Lance Painter to slow his approach, and prevent himself from leaking off the mound. In Tuesday’s five-plus innings, Sheffield seemed much more calm.
“The more controlled I can be, obviously the command is going to get better,” Sheffield said. “There were still times tonight where I caught myself leaking a little bit, and rushing, and things like that.
“But, if I can just catch my breath, settle down and just stay over the rubber, I feel like that’s going to take me a long way. And, I’m glad I’m recognizing it now, early in the year.”
Sheffield said he felt like Tuesday night’s innings — his fastball was in the mid-90s — included his hardest-thrown pitches of the season.
“That’s just from staying over the rubber, and being quiet over the rubber,” he said. “I keep preaching that because I want that in my head. I don’t want to be leaking, and leaving balls up.
“I’m going to build off this, get ready these next four days, work hard these next four days, and get back out there.”
Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.