A couple of years from now, folks might chuckle when they look back at Mariners rookie Chase De Jong’s dreadful first major league start against the reigning American League champion Cleveland Indians.
De Jong gave up six earned runs Sunday. He could not get out of the third inning. Seattle lost, 12-4.
Afterward, manager Scott Servais gave some thought for what was next when De Jong’s turn came up in the rotation.
It did not take Servais very long to stay with the 23-year-old right hander for another start.
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“It is the right thing to do,” Servais said. “A young guy coming up, he did not have great results in his first start. But we like the player. We like the pitcher. We’ll give him another shot.”
De Jong will make his first Safeco Field start Saturday against Texas.
“After the performance I put out there last start, I should have been worried. I didn’t do my job,” said De Jong, sitting at his clubhouse stall Wednesday. “But I am very encouraged by the fact they see that there is something here.”
Essentially the Mariners’ No. 6 starting pitcher at this point, De Jong has some qualities the organization covets.
While he doesn’t throw exceptionally hard — he tops out around 92-93 mph — De Jong has shown command to use his fastball effectively in all quadrants of the strike zone.
“All of his other pitches work off that,” Servais said. “It’s not the 95 mph blow-you-away heater, but it is very effective.”
Another great De Jong trait? He listens to Hall-of-Famers.
A second-round pick by Toronto in the 2012 amateur draft, De Jong eventually was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.
A few weeks into last season in Double-A Tulsa, Greg Maddux, who was hired earlier that winter as a special assistant, showed up in the Drillers’ clubhouse.
Maddux talked to De Jong extensively about key pitching points — pitch selection and studying hitters’ tendencies in every at-bat.
“There were developmental things I learned last year that were key for me to keep pitches off the barrel of the bat, and learning the cutter was one of them. That is how I went after left-handers,” De Jong said. “It changed my whole philosophy and how I attacked hitters going into games.”
De Jong went on to have arguably the finest season last year in Double-A — a 14-5 record, 2.86 earned-run average and giving up 106 hits in 141-plus innings. He was named the Texas League pitcher of the year.
When the Mariners acquired De Jong in March from the Dodgers in exchange for minor leaguers Drew Jackson and Aneurys Zabala, they knew they were getting an efficient strike thrower.
De Jong is also very analytical about pitching. He relayed a story about a spring training bullpen session with Seattle pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. where he was self-critical after his work, even after throwing a bunch of quality strikes.
Stottlemyre joked to the California native that he was too hard on himself, to which De Jong explained, “I don’t have 98 (mph) in the tank, so I have to win the 1-1 counts to have really good outings.”
Hmm, smart guy,
“I go right after guys, and I know I am going to get hit,” De Jong said. “But I’d rather get hit than give up free bases any day of the week, because the best hitters get a hit 28 percent of the time.
“I will fill up that strike zone until the sun goes down.”
After two rough outings and one good one with the Mariners, De Jong said he knows his older teammates are pulling for him. Outfielder Nelson Cruz gave him a pep talk a few days ago. He sits next to veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo in the clubhouse. And left-hander James Paxton has taken a special interest in him.
“Paxton has been phenomenal,” De Jong said. “He has taken me under his wing. He said when he came up, Chris Young (now with the Royals) did the same thing with him.”
Sounds like a smart, easy guy to root for to do well Saturday.
“Another start is something I am very grateful for,” De Jong said. “I an looking forward to it.”