So to answer the age-old question, yes, some good can come out of the day when Felix goes on the DL. Only very small bits of good, but good nonetheless.
Biggest Contribution: JJ Putz, +38.3%
Biggest Suckfest: Cha Baek, -19.0%
Most Important At Bat: Ichiro triple, +20.9%
Most Important Pitch: Blalock homers, -13.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +54.7%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -7.1%
I was going to write up a full standard recap, but then I had to go somewhere unplanned for two hours and it kind of ate into my schedule. So, bullet points!
- For the first three innings, this was looking like every other game we've had recently, at least on the offensive side of the ball - twice the Mariners were able to get the leadoff man in scoring position, and twice they came up empty. That's what happens when you have a team that's batting .239 with runners in scoring position. And while my initial reaction was "oh, that'll even out over time" since their overall numbers are better, it occurred to me that the guys who're keeping the overall numbers afloat aren't the guys who're coming to the plate in run-scoring situations. No, it's people like Ichiro and Johjima getting on base, and people like Beltre and Vidro and Guillen failing to drive them in. Yeah, it will get better just due to regression to the mean, but it's going to keep being a problem until the run-producing hitters in the middle of the lineup start doing their jobs. Right now, Guillen and Beltre alternate looking terrible, and Vidro just doesn't have the pop to cut it as a #3 hitter. Until one or two of the core guys get straightened out, you should continue to expect a ton of stranded baserunners. Fourth inning aside, Ichiro can't do everything by himself.
- You know what the biggest problem is with the lineup? Here it is, in one picture:
Look at the FSN Tracker in the lower right. When this screengrab was taken, Richie had seen 11 pitches in the at bat. Eight of them were balls. He swung at five of them, which is why he's only in a full count here, rather than standing on first. You can see how big of an issue this is when you consider that Richie's supposed to draw the most walks on the roster. That said, I'm not trying to single him out; the entire batting order has this problem, aside from Jose Vidro - who can't do anything with strikes anyway - and Jamie Burke, who just, um, whatever (his fourth inning AB was terrific, strikeout be damned). This is a lineup that goes up there being aggressive and ends up bailing the pitcher out because, other than Ichiro, nobody on the team has the kind of plate coverage necessary to make a guy pay for a pitch off the plate. It's almost embarrassing to watch Beltre swing through a slider in the dirt or Betancourt pop up on a pitch at his eyes. Everyone in this batting order is going to end the season with respectable numbers, but with the way things are going, any smart pitcher who's able to locate the ball where he wants is going to tear this lineup apart.
- Cha Baek is a manager's favorite kind of back-of-the-rotation pitcher. Not because he's anything special, but because he throws a ton of strikes and makes the defense do the work. Nothing gets under a coach's skin more than falling behind in the count or issuing a bunch of walks. Remember Lou? If you consistently put the ball over the plate, managers can say things like "oh, the hitters just had a good day," or "balls were just falling in between the fielders." Miss the zone all the time, though, and that's solely the fault of the guy on the mound. I mean, just look at what Hargrove had to say after the game:
"I though he was good," said manager Mike Hargrove of Baek's performance. "He didn't get tired, I think he started trying to do too much in the fourth and the fifth and got himself in trouble. On the whole he was good."
"Trying to do too much" is manager-speak for "started getting too pretty." When Baek was out there just putting the ball over the plate, Hargrove loved it. That's obviously not the approach of a particularly successful pitcher, and it's why the organization doesn't hold Baek in real high esteem, but you better believe that Hargrove wouldn't mind a little more of Baek at the expense of the other assclowns in the rotation. If someone gets hurt or ineffective and a more permanent spot opens up, I think we know who we'll be seeing. It may or may not be the best idea, but it's what gives the manager the most confidence.
- Speaking of Baek, I've never seen a pitcher who looks so absolutely terrified in my entire life. It's not so much the body language as it is the facial expression; Baek legitimately looks like a man who's in the early stages of being delivered the worst news in the history of the world. Observe:
Contrast this with Kevin Millwood, who appears to display nothing but bitter contempt for everyone around him when he pitches. I wonder if it might not be part of why Baek succeeds - when the batter goes up to the plate, he sees Baek looking like spooked cattle and assumes that something horrible is about to happen. Fearing for both his own safety and for the welfare of his family back home, the batter is no longer able to concentrate on the pitch, and he pops it up quickly so he can return to the dugout and call his wife.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say it almost looks like Baek took Acting 101 from Mike Scioscia but, like any young amateur, struggles to convey the right emotion through facial subtleties. Scioscia's the master - he's able to appear bewildered and innocent through nothing more than a simple raising of the eyebrows. Baek, though, is prone to exaggeration because he's not comfortable with the finer muscle movements and doesn't understand how powerful they can be, even in small doses. Before any given pitch it's like he's one more stroke of bad luck away from breaking down and weeping on the field. This does not instill one with much confidence.
- JJ Putz is not 100%, and he's not going to get to 100% for as long as he's on the active roster. Today he threw about ten straight 93mph fastballs and never once flashed anything offspeed. I don't want to jump the gun, since 85% of JJ Putz is better than 95% of the rest of the league's relievers, but this could be trouble. While praying to see him throw a 90mph splitter in his next appearance, remember to be thankful for everything he's already provided.
- Highlight of the day: Brandon Morrow in the bottom of the fifth. Inheriting two on and one out, Morrow promptly uncorked a wild pitch and went on to intentionally walk Hank Blalock to load the bases for one of the hottest hitters in baseball in Ian Kinsler. Morrow blew him away. Blew away Nelson Cruz, too. Nothing but heat. The stadium radar gun got as high as 98 (101 on Fox Sports), and neither Kinsler nor Cruz could catch up. It was like watching Putz from last September, actually. Morrow didn't dick around - he just came right after the hitters with the best he had to offer and dared them to make him pay. They couldn't.
So that was neat. But then things changed. Morrow stayed in the game, but he started featuring different stuff. He flashed a breaking ball, and his fastball was down in the 92-94 range. After escaping the initial jam, Morrow pitched his appearance like a starter. And I gotta say, I wasn't impressed. He couldn't locate his slider or splitter for his life, and his fastball lost so many ticks that it was no longer anything resembling a plus pitch. He was basically an average fastball guy with little else to offer, and once the velocity came down he promptly stopped missing bats. That's bad, and it's bad for two reasons. One, it means he isn't nearly as developed as the coaching staff thinks he is, and he still needs a lot of work before he's ready to help this rotation. And two, everyone's going to remember him for his two strikeouts in the fifth inning and bring them up anytime anyone dares to suggest moving Morrow back to the minors. "Look how much he can help us right now," they'll say. "Why would you want to lose that on purpose?"
And this is where it starts. Bavasi has an obligation to do what's in the best interests of the organization, but Hargrove and the rest of the coaching staff are much more short-sighted, so there's a potential conflict here. After those two strikeouts, the coaches aren't going to let Morrow go without a fight, so if Bavasi decides that he wants to see him working every five days in Tacoma or Tennessee, he'll have to demonstrate the kind of power and authority he's been reluctant to do in the past. The pigeonholing that everyone feared when Morrow first came up is more likely now than it was a few hours ago. It's incredibly silly, but that's how these things work. Me, I'm not ready to settle for Morrow as the new Fernando Rodney, but all I can really do is hope.
Remember: firing Hargrove isn't just about wins and losses. It's also about the future. Simply put, we can't allow a man whose job status changes by the day determine the development path of a pitcher who's supposed to help us for the better part of a decade. If Bavasi lets Morrow's two strikeouts sway the organization's judgment of his most appropriate role, then he's failed as a GM.
- Ichiro's slugging .532. The man continues to evolve.
Jarrod Washburn and Vicente Padilla tomorrow at 11:05am PDT. At 6.00, Padilla would have the third-best ERA in our starting rotation.