Thesputtered last week, coming out of an off day to lose three consecutive games and fall further behind in their pursuit of the Cactus League championship. But they have since done an admirable job of rebounding, pulling off a late-inning win over Texas, keeping the silent, and then surviving a rainout and thumping the on a breezy and pleasant Tuesday afternoon. With the taking the day to rest - or look over their shoulders - the M's have pulled to within two games of the lead, and if baseball has taught me anything in my day, it's that there's no stopping momentum once it starts, never ever. The Mariners may finally bring the state of Washington a trophy it can be proud of. Get out of the way, 19th place in total highway miles circa 2001!
Today's assortment of bullet holes:
Felix Hernandez got the start and had a much easier time with the White Sox than he did against the the last time out. He didn't increase his pitch count, but he's already thrown more than he did last March, so I'd imagine the team is just trying to take every precaution. There's not much not to like from his performance today; he whiffed five in five innings, with no walks and a hit batter he barely grazed, and he threw all of his pitches.
What was interesting was the way he came out of the gate. He threw four fastballs to Lastings Milledge to lead off the game, but then Gordon Beckham worked an 11-pitch at bat that featured eight offspeed pitches, and Adam Dunn subsequently struck out in a six-pitch at bat including two heaters, three changeups, and a curve. Felix eventually settled into a more familiar mix, but seeing him come out the way he did was unusual. I can hardly imagine trying to explain this first inning to myself in March of 2008. For a few reasons.
That Beckham at bat, by the way, was nuts. Coaches are always saying that if you fight off pitches long enough, eventually the pitcher will make a mistake and give you something to hit. Felix didn't give Beckham anything to hit, and he wound up striking out on a curveball in the dirt. The most hittable pitch might've been a slider over the plate, but that came after a changeup in on the hands and a biting sinker down and in, so it's not like Beckham was standing there all comfortable-like. Against some pitchers, you try to fight off pitches until they make a mistake. Against Felix, you try to fight off pitches just to get him out of the game.
- When you have a bullpen with as many candidates as the Mariners do, it doesn't take much for the names to shuffle around, and today we saw some more shuffling. Two pitchers came away with red arrows pointing down. Cesar Jimenez allowed a double and threw a wild pitch in the sixth, and he's running out of time to find his groove. Strangely, the lefty changeup specialist didn't throw a single changeup. And later, Chris Ray had a messy ninth. Not only did he also allow a double and throw a wild pitch; for good measure, he served up a home run to Gookie Dawkins. Interestingly, the White Sox swung through six of his fastballs, so the heat is there, but Chris Ray is not quite equal to the sum of his parts.
And two pitchers came away with green arrows pointing up. Royce Ring threw another scoreless inning, and he struck out the one lefty he faced, who happened to be Adam Dunn. And Tom Wilhelmsen needed 15 pitches to strike out the side in the seventh. Now, it's important to recognize that the batters he struck out were Brent Morel, Omar Vizquel, and Brent Lillibridge. It's also important to recognize that, in all three at bats, Wilhelmsen fell behind 2-0. His command still isn't good. But the results speak to the difficulty of hitting his stuff. Wilhelmsen could be a decent big league reliever in April, even if he doesn't get the chance.
- I'm going to show you an easy walk.
Now I'm going to show you a difficult walk.
The first is a walk drawn by Michael Saunders against Edwin Jackson in the fourth inning. The second is a walk drawn by Adam Moore against Edwin Jackson a few minutes later. In the Saunders image, we see three pitches from an opposite-handed pitcher that are way outside. Only three pitches were close, and Saunders swung at two of them, even though none of them appear to have been strikes.
In the Moore image, we see five pitches from a same-handed pitcher that are all right around the zone, save maybe for #5. Those high fastballs are not easy to lay off, but Moore did an excellent job and got his base.
Just something to keep in mind, as all walks are not created equal, and drawing a walk doesn't necessarily mean a guy had a good approach at the plate. I'm glad to see Saunders walking, and he drew another in the fifth, but that one, too, was easy, relative to the average base on balls. The challenge is in laying off of the closer, more tantalizing pitches.
- I wonder how many casual Mariners fans would be able to tell you which half of this is a lie.
- Steve Baron and Sean Kazmar came in as two of three Mariners who had yet to strike out. They combined to go 0-3 with three strikeouts. Now that a crack has finally developed in the Sean Kazmar eggshell it should only be a matter of time before he emerges to spread his wings and fly away to the minor league complex.
- In the sixth inning, Dustin Ackley drew a four-pitch walk against Hector Santiago, establishing that he's capable of drawing walks against mediocre high-A ball relievers. Next stop: the moon! Hector Santiago also allowed a bunch of other Mariners hitters to do a bunch of other good things but his being Hector Santiago causes me to consider the pointlessness of analyzing the rest of the inning.
- Ryan Langerhans hit another double today, and you have to figure that he's pretty much guaranteed himself a spot on the Opening Day bench. He's 12-36 with four doubles, a triple and a homer, and he's added to the whole package by playing his usual brand of awesome defense in the outfield. I've seen some chatter about Langerhans toying with a new swing and stance (it's a bug that's going around). I've seen less chatter about the fact that he had offseason surgery to clean up an elbow that's been bothering him for a couple years. It stands to reason that it might be easier to swing a productive bat when your elbow isn't sending curse words to your brain.
Tomorrow brings Luke French and the M's against Jorge de la Rosa and the . But wait! There's more. The game's at 6:40, and it's going to be broadcast on ROOT Sports. ROOT Sports - showing sports you can root for.