Mariners’ Sheffield seeks continued improvement vs. Angels

MLB Baseball
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Justus Sheffield will take the mound Saturday for the Seattle Mariners on a roll, pitching in a manner that has been anticipated since he was the New York Yankees’ No. 1 pitching prospect two years ago.

Sheffield, who will make his second career start against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif., came to the Mariners in the trade that sent James Paxton to New York after the 2018 season.

Sheffield, who is not related to former major leaguer Gary Sheffield, had his ups and downs in 2019, dividing his time between the majors, Triple-A and Double-A. But with the help of Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth, Sheffield seems to have had a breakthrough. In his past three starts, he is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA (2 earned runs, 18 innings), 16 strikeouts and just two walks.

“Get ahead, stay ahead,” Sheffield said. “That’s big. My last couple outings, I’ve been able to do that.”

Going back to spring training, though, Sheffield took the advice offered by Woodworth to give up his four-seam fastball and implement a two-seamer. Woodworth looked at analytical data — in this case, noting the low spin rate on Sheffield’s four-seamer. The movement on the pitch was unpredictable, while his two-seamer consistently broke down and away from right-handed hitters, complementing his best pitch — his slider.

“He actually brought it to my attention one day in my throwing program,” Sheffield said. “I’m not really into the data, I guess you could say. I’m more, ‘go out there and be aggressive and get outs,’ but I’m definitely learning to put that new school baseball into it with the data and things like that. So he brought it to my attention that I had a low spin rate on my four-seams, so why not throw a (two-seamer) and get more sink on it?”

Sheffield gave up four runs on four hits and four walks in three innings against the Angels in his first start of the season on July 28, a 10-2 Mariners loss.

Angels first baseman Albert Pujols likely will be in the starting lineup at first base or DH because Sheffield is a left-hander. Pujols, however, has started just six of the Angels’ past 13 games, and it’s not because of any physical issues. Pujols had been dividing time at first base and DH with Tommy LaStella and Shohei Ohtani. LaStella, though, was traded to the Oakland Athletics on Friday for middle infielder Franklin Barreto.

Pujols, 40, has struggled this season, hitting .220/.264/.378 with three homers and 13 RBI.

The three homers have put Pujols at 659 for his career, one behind Willie Mays for fifth on the all-time list. But he hasn’t hit one since Aug. 4.

“I think I still have a lot of fuel in me,” Pujols said. “Just to be out there in the top five, top six in home runs is pretty special. So, if the opportunity comes and I do it, great. But if it doesn’t, there’s no regret.”

Dylan Bundy (3-2, 2.58 ERA) will start on the mound for the Angels. Bundy got off to a hot start but struggled somewhat in his past two starts, allowing eight runs (six earned) and 11 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

–Field Level Media

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