1-2, Game Thoughts

I've spent half an hour writing different intros to this post, deleting them, and writing up new ones. You know what? Forget it. It's April 7th. The Mariners have played three games. We can't glean much of anything from three games, and given that there's still 98.1% of the season left to play, trying that hard to come up with the perfect intro is nothing but a poor allocation of effort. So the only thing of substance I'll say up here is this: it's no coincidence that the M's and the A's have gone into three straight ninth innings all tied up.

When I compared the two teams a week ago, I wasn't dicking around. They're unusually similar, and while the M's bring more star power, overall you're looking at two powerless offenses, two sensational defenses, two volatile rotations, and two deep, strong bullpens. If you think the M's are bad, you should think the A's are bad. If you think the M's are good, you should think the A's are good. And everything in between. The three games so far are only three games, but if nothing else, they've underscored how much we're alike. They've got an underrated ballclub down there in Oakland, and as far as I'm concerned, let the sibling rivalry commence.

  • If you're looking for a hard-hitting analysis of Ryan Rowland-Smith's five innings, you'll have to look elsewhere. As a new policy I just made up, I'm going to try not to make too much of any pitcher's early appearances. Everyone knows that pitchers aren't going at 100% in spring training. They're working on new pitches, they're tinkering with their deliveries, they're throwing a little slower, and they're building up arm strength. But they don't just flip a switch as soon as the regular season begins. I mean, the non-Lincecum ones don't. If pitchers are still working themselves into game shape in late March, odds are they're still working themselves into game shape in early April.

    It's all a process, and few guys are able to hit the ground running. For the majority of them, it'll take a game or four to hit their stride. Annoying? Sure, I guess, but not as annoying as making too much of the fact that RRS whiffed one batter. Give him time. Give all of them time.

    For whatever it's worth, RRS obviously wasn't in peak form tonight. If you though the A's were hitting a lot of balls on a line against him, you wouldn't be mistaken. Left a few too many pitches up in the zone. But what's important is that he felt pretty good and threw 72% of his offspeed stuff for strikes. When he missed, he wasn't missing by much. It's a step. As Ryan says himself, it's something to build off of.

  • You know who was a blast to watch? Justin Duchscherer. Not because he was great, or because he was so terrible as to benefit the Mariners, but because his fastest pitch was 86mph, and it's always an experience to see how guys like that attempt to compensate for their shortcomings. Duchscherer's solution? Go to town with curveballs and cutters. His cutter might be even more remarkable than his heater, because cutters are technically a kind of fastball, and Duchscherer's comes just over 80. That is a finesse pitcher in every sense of the word, and as a non-sidearming righty, Duchscherer's a rare breed.

    This is how he threw back in his spectacular 2008 season, by the way. It's not like he left a lot on the operating table. Justin Duchscherer threw 85-86mph fastballs and 80-81mph cutters, and ran a 2.54 ERA. He's one to root for.

  • Another Justin Duchscherer fun fact: Justin Duchscherer wears tighter pants than Luke Pritchard. If Justin Duchscherer's pants were any tighter, Mark Ellis would accuse him of stealing.

  • Sticking with fashion for the time being, I'm a big fan of Oakland's black alternate tops. It's not that they're anything spectacular on their own, but they're just light enough that you might swear they're really really dark green, causing you to stare at them for far too long and giving the jerseys the effect of shifting color back and forth like a mood ring with limited range.

  • There's already been a lot of talk about Suzuki's winning double, and how the ball sure seemed catchable. It's true - replays are a little damning. But even if it was a catchable fly, it would've been a tricky play, and you can't let one possible mistake take away from the fact that Milton Bradley had a terrific game. In the field, he made a fine sliding catch to rob Rajai Davis in the first and took extra bases away from Daric Barton by running back and to his right in the fifth. And at the plate, of course, Bradley launched that mammoth blast to give the M's an early lead. It was a meatball pitch, an 80mph, thigh-high, 2-1 cutter over the outer half of the plate, but it's definitely in everyone's best interests for Bradley to get that monkey off his back in the first series.

    Did Bradley blow it by misplaying Suzuki's fly ball? Maybe he did. I'm not entirely sure. But even if that's true, he did enough earlier on that his overall contribution was positive. 

  • Nice of Jack Wilson to join us, as well. His RBI single was just a standard groundball, but he made a diving play up the middle in the bottom of the seventh that prevented what would've been the go-ahead run. Once or twice so far we've seen a ball get through that we thought Wilson might've been able to knock down, so it's great to see that his range and agility remain intact.

  • That same half inning was a real good one for Jose Lopez. With one on and none out, Lopez charged a grounder by Ryan Sweeney and made a strong off-balance throw to get the runner at first. Then, in the next at bat, he fielded a routine grounder off the bat of Kevin Kouzmanoff, even though Brandon League had snapped Kouzmanoff's bat and the barrel was flying in Lopez's direction. The barrel only missed Lopez by a few feet, but Lopez stayed calm and composed, suggesting that he was either completely focused on the task at hand or completely unaware that he was endangered.

  • Rajai Davis' third-inning homer was a good example of why a lot of guys go up there looking fastball. If you look fastball and swing as if you want to hit a fastball back up the middle, then sometimes you can adjust to an offspeed pitch and pull it down the line. Davis was way out in front of RRS' 2-2 low curve, clearly fooled, but he was still able to get the bat head on the ball and yank it over the fence in the corner. I don't know who to give credit to there. It's good pitching and bad hitting, but also bad pitching and good hitting.

    What a find, by the way, Davis has been, after he was DFA'd by the Giants. A .290/.340/.400 hitter with the ability to steal 40 bases and play absolutely dynamite, nearly Gutierrez-level defense in center? Put it all together and you've got one of the more underrated players in the league. He's just terrific. Sweeney, too. I love our outfield, but Oakland's got its own thing going on.

  • Said Dave Niehaus: "Rajai Davis loves to run." We don't know that. What we know is that he does it a lot. But maybe he only does it because it pays the bills. Maybe he only does it because he knows he can do it, and it's the easiest way for him to put food on the table for his family. Maybe Rajai Davis is stuck in a career he doesn't enjoy because he was pushed into it with no alternative from an early age. Maybe Rajai Davis loves to farm.

  • With Kurt Suzuki at catcher and Jake Fox at DH, the A's had both of their catchers in the starting lineup. RRS even beaned Suzuki in the bottom of the first to see if he could cause them some problems. They were in a delicate position. Meanwhile, the Mariners, as usual, began with their second catcher on the bench. And yet, somehow, after Ryan Langerhans pinch-hit for Rob Johnson and Adam Moore took over and absorbed a foul ball, we wound up being the ones briefly staring a catcherless rest of the game in the face.

    I wonder if, the instant Moore got hurt, Willie Ballgame shot out of bed with his brain tingling. They need me.

  • Tonight, 22 year old Oakland farmhand Tyson Ross made his Major League debut. Ross - a local kid out of Berkeley, California - must've been all jitters as he jogged in from the bullpen in front of friends and family. The score was 5-4 Mariners with two down in the sixth, and even though there was a runner on first, all Ross would've been thinking was, okay, just buckle down and make sure your first pitch is a good one. Ross had what must've felt like forever to think about that pitch. And, just as Ross was about to deliver that pitch, Franklin Gutierrez took off for second.

    It was perfect. Just perfect, and almost cruel in a way. Welcome to the big leagues, Tyson Ross. While you're all freaking out over the first Major League pitch of your life, that baserunner you're not thinking about at all is gonna go ahead and move up. I would love to see historical SB success rates when the guy on the mound is dealing with the first at bat of his career.

    Tyson Ross, by the way, has one of the weirder deliveries I've seen in a while. One of the tried-and-true deliveries they teach kids in Little League and high school is called tall-and-fall, where the pitcher stands tall on the mound and sort of falls towards home plate. Tyson Ross' delivery might be best described as tall-and-twist, because he doesn't actually fall, or bend, or anything. He just stands on the mound and whips the ball at the catcher with his arm. He literally looks like a guy pitching with a four-foot stick up his ass.

  • Brandon League threw 38 pitches tonight. 36 of them were fastballs. None of them missed any bats. I've no idea why he only threw two splitters, but that was only, y'know, the most unhittable pitch in baseball last season, so you'd think he'd want to feature it more. Weird, weird outing for League.

    The 38 pitches is also a concern, because that's four more than he threw in any appearance in 2009. We'll see how long they can make this six-man bullpen thing work. Baker got some quotes from Wakamatsu on the subject after the game, and while the team isn't about to abandon their plan quite yet, they're clearly thinking about it, and with Doug Fister and Jason Vargas slotted to get the next two starts - with one of them coming in Texas - you could see another arm up here by the weekend. It's a precarious situation. My only hope is that, if and when they do go back to a seven-man staff, they find a way to make Mike Sweeney the casualty instead of Ryan Langerhans.
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