In a lot of ways, you could say this game was eerily similar to last night's in the way it played out. Thefell behind the early, but then battled back and even put themselves in position to tie or take the lead before ultimately blowing their opportunities and ending up with a hard-fought loss.
But then, in a lot of ways, you could say this game was eerily similar to last night's in that the major story wasn't so much the game itself as it was the guy taking the mound. Yesterday, we all wanted to see how Erik Bedard would do in his first big league start in a year and a half. Today, we all wanted to see how Michael Pineda would do in his first big league start in ever. And the answer: better than Erik Bedard.
Yeah, I know the Mariners lost. Yeah, I know this was a game they could've won. But I'm sitting here, half an hour later, and I don't feel disappointed. Pineda didn't disappoint, and he showed some brilliant signs of ace-itude that, with luck, we'll be able to see more and more often with the passage of time. That's really what this year is all about.
Given all the attention and all the pressure, both external and internal, it would've been perfectly understandable for Pineda to go out there guns a'blazin and overthrow for the first few hitters before settling down. A big part of me was even expecting it. Pineda is 22 years old, and he was making his first-ever Major League start against a lineup Goliath in a David ballpark. When I was 22 I could barely handle asking a girl on a date. Of course Pineda would start off a little wobbly. To expect otherwise would be to expect him to be inhuman.
But if Pineda was the least bit nervous, it didn't show. As a matter of fact, the first inning was his best, and I don't think there's even any question. He started off by getting ahead of Ian Kinsler with two straight fastballs and then punching him out with a slider over the outer edge that Kinsler didn't like. Pineda then quickly got ahead of Elvis Andrus before inducing a routine grounder on an inside fastball. Finally, in the high point of the inning, Pineda froze Josh Hamilton with a perfectly-placed first-pitch fastball, tied him up with an inside fastball for a foul, and dropped a killer changeup in the dirt for a swinging strike three. Ten pitches into his debut, Pineda had a perfect inning and a pair of strikeouts, one of which came against the reigning MVP.
From there, things got worse, but only because there wasn't any other option. In the second inning, Nelson Cruz drew Pineda's first-ever walk, and then scored when Mitch Moreland blasted an 0-1 outside fastball off the fence in center on a fly ball that Michael Saunders badly misread. Franklin Gutierrez might've turned that ball into an out, but it was still hit hard, and Pineda paid the price.
The third went by in a hurry, as Pineda needed just nine pitches for a 1-2-3 frame. The lefty Julio Borbon did Pineda a favor by leading off with a bunt, and as Pineda scrambled off the mound you could almost hear the ground rumble under his feet. Michael Pineda descending the mound qualifies as a level ten avalanche.
The fourth was as easy as the third, as this time Pineda needed ten pitches for a 1-2-3 that included a swinging strikeout of Michael Young when Pineda blew a high fastball right by him. At this point, Pineda's pitch count was almost impossibly low for a guy in his situation, and he seemed to have settled into a groove.
What we saw in the fifth was another scoreless frame, but another extra-base hit by the lefty Moreland, when Pineda missed low with a first-pitch changeup, and then let a 1-0 fastball drift right over the middle of the plate. Olivo wanted it outside, but Pineda caught way too much of the zone and Moreland, in turn, caught way too much of the ball, pulling it to right.
Finally, Pineda's evening wrapped up in the sixth. With one out and a runner on second, Pineda locked horns with Hamilton and, on a 2-2 pitch, tried to get Hamilton to chase a slider in the dirt. But the slider didn't fall to the dirt and instead ended up at Hamilton's knees, with the slugger blasting an RBI double. Two batters later, Pineda then got in trouble by falling way behind Michael Young and he left a fastball in the middle of the plate that Young didn't miss, slicing another RBI double the other way. Pineda did get Cruz to pop out to end the inning and his night, but the two runs presumably left a sour taste in his mouth.
Six innings, 84 pitches. Overall, what did we learn from Michael Pineda?
I don't think we learned anything we didn't already suspect. First all, here's the breakdown by handedness:
Righty hitters: 2-16, double, walk, three strikeouts
Lefty hitters: 3-7, two doubles, triple, strikeout
Sure enough, Pineda had success working against righties with his fastball and slider, with only Young really touching him up. The other hit was a single off of Jack Wilson's glove. Lefties, meanwhile, ripped Pineda for three extra-base hits, none of them cheap. The lingering image will probably be Pineda striking out Josh Hamilton in the first, and that was a spectacular at bat, but that worked out because Pineda was perfect, and when he wasn't perfect, lefties took advantage. He threw a great changeup, but he didn't throw enough great changeups, and that hurt him. His other pitches aren't good enough to get him by against lefties on their own.
But I don't want to sound like I'm down on Pineda's performance, because for a Major League debut, this was electric, and at certain times superb. Pineda showed flaws, but those are flaws we already knew were there. Nothing came out from behind the curtains to take us by surprise. And there were those flashes of dominance that showed what Pineda could become in time, if he does the work. We all saw that first inning. Given some improvements, we could see a lot more of that first inning. Pineda's still developing. Where will he be in three months? Where will he be in six months? Where will he be next July?
Pineda came out with a plan, executed, and didn't get bent out of shape when things didn't go his way. What he wound up with was the best start anyone's thrown against Texas in this young season, and that's a group of starters comprising Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Erik Bedard. All of them, bested by a 22-year-old flamethrowing phenom making the first start of his life.
Michael Pineda is a treat.
Alexi Ogando threw 94 miles per hour on his 90th and final pitch of the game. Alexi Ogando is a relief pitcher whose previous Major League high for pitches was 40. The most he threw in Spring Training was 33. Ogando isn't viewed the way Pineda is, mainly because he's 27 and usually works out of the bullpen, but he clearly has a dynamite arm, and this isn't the last time he'll make us look stupid.
- The Mariners didn't have a lot going on at the plate tonight on account of Mariners, but rather than highlight the agony, I will say that I was impressed by Michael Saunders' at bat against Darren Oliver in the 7th. The M's had a run in and men on the corners with one out when Ron Washington went to Oliver out of the bullpen. Oliver's K/BB against lefties over the past three years is 105/13, and I was probably sensing the same thing that everybody else was sensing: Saunders was doomed.
Instead, he battled. He worked the count 2-2 and as soon as Oliver gave him something elevated, he took advantage, sending an RBI single right back up the middle. It's only a single, but in that situation, against that pitcher, it's a big confidence boost, because not a single person saw it coming. Not a whole lot has been going Saunders' way, so this was a delicious break from the usual pattern.
- Now to highlight the agony! Down 3-2, the M's had the bases loaded and one out, with a pair of switch-hitters due up against a lefty. The first-switch hitter hit a pop-up exactly as far as you'd think that Chone Figgins can hit a pop-up if you saw him on the street. The second switch-hitter hit a mashable slider off the end of the bat and flew out to center, where a lost and desperate Julio Borbon scrambled to make a forward diving catch. I can take a sunny approach to all these missed opportunities now just because I know what the priorities really are, but I can't be held responsible for the way I react if this keeps up another two or three months.
- It is written into Nolan Ryan's ownership contract that he is to be shown on television and discussed by the broadcasters a minimum of five times a game. What you don't realize when you're watching images of Nolan Ryan spill out of a stadium seat during a baseball game is that those same images are being shown on every other channel that you are not watching. During each Rangers game, Nolan Ryan is shown and discussed on every channel on television, and on half the channels of Sirius XM.
- Jamey Wright struck out Josh Hamilton, swinging, with a fastball.
We get brunch with the Mariners tomorrow, as Felix Hernandez goes up against C.J. Wilson at 11:05 in the morning. The Mariners probably still aren't going to hit, but what is brunch without cocktails?