Schizophrenic Mariners Terrorize Kansas City

Charlie Furbush kind of has a little face

I'm going to share with you something that Mike Salk said last Friday night while a group of us was watching the Mariners lose to the Rangers. It was said at a bar and I didn't ask Salk's permission before beginning this post, but if I've learned anything about bloggers in my time blogging it's that the lot of us is unethical and has no respect for peoples' privacy. We also think that if you admit to doing something wrong up front, that excuses the subsequent behavior. Watch me go!

I don't remember the timing, exactly. The Mariners had just done something stupid. They'd made a dumb out, or they'd just lost, or something. Salk groaned and remarked "we can't talk about them." Referring to the Mariners, on the air. The Mariners were so bad, so boring, such radio poison, that Brock and Salk had to hunt for other topics, in the middle of the summer. Worse, it's not like I could disagree. Just because I write about this team all the time doesn't mean I believe that it's always worth writing about.

What made the Mariners so boring was that they just couldn't score. Not at home, where they'd been playing a lot recently. They also couldn't win very much, but the no scoring was a problem, because it was carrying over from previous seasons. People wanted to see the Mariners do something different, and instead these Mariners have in large part been more of the same.

These last two games have been different. Salk can probably talk about the Mariners on the air tomorrow if he wants to. The Mariners have scored nine runs on consecutive nights, drilling three homers and six extra-base hits yesterday and two homers and seven extra-base hits today. The pitching hasn't been great, but the starters have been Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan, who haven't been sold as building blocks. The talented young hitters have looked like talented young hitters, and that's given us two days of faith.

Not that this can necessarily be taken at face value. There's no denying the Mariners have scored 18 runs in two games - I'm looking at that, on the Internet, after looking at that on TV. I know sometimes a stadium's radar gun might be hot, but there's no such thing as a hot scoreboard. There's no stadium where a guy can hit a two-run homer and it counts as a three-run homer. That's how things should probably work in San Diego come to think of it, but runs are runs and the numbers aren't lying.

But unfortunately - and I hate to do this - you can't talk about hitting in isolation if you care at all about accuracy and intellectual honesty. You have to consider the opponent, and the Mariners have scored 18 runs in two games in sweltering conditions against the Royals. Yesterday, the Mariners scored seven of their nine runs against Jonathan Sanchez. Today, the Mariners scored six of their nine runs against Ryan Verdugo, and the remainder of their runs against Vin Mazzaro.

This afternoon, the Royals designated Sanchez for assignment. He'll get a job, because he's left-handed and not old and two years removed from being all right, but he'll get a job not because he is something useful, but because a team believes it could turn him back into something useful. The Angels kept trying to turn Scott Kazmir back into something useful until they gave up. Kazmir is currently out of affiliated baseball. He's 28. Sanchez is 29. They say that lefties can last forever, but they really don't, if they're as bad as Scott Kazmir, or as bad as Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez has probably been the worst starting pitcher in the Majors in 2012, and the Mariners weren't the first team to make him all frowny.

Verdugo, coincidentally enough, was the pitching prospect who came with Sanchez in the Melky Cabrera trade. This afternoon I was talking with Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles, and he characterized Verdugo as the Jonathan Sanchez of double-A. Then Brisbee looked Verdugo up and observed that he'd lost his strikeouts. Tonight was Verdugo's big-league debut, and in triple-A he managed barely three strikeouts for every two walks. Verdugo's a pitching prospect in that he's been a 25-year-old minor leaguer and you can't become a non-prospect until you're at least 26, but Verdugo has neither the numbers nor the weapons.

As for Mazzaro, he's got a career 81 ERA+. Since first reaching the Majors in 2009, he's posted one of baseball's worst ERAs and FIPs. He's exactly the sort of pitcher who makes a career out of shuttling back and forth between triple-A and the bigs, and while there's money in that, and occasional success in that, Mazzaro doesn't look like he's going to make the leap for good. Maybe he will. He hasn't yet.

The three pitchers the Mariners have beat up the last two nights are varying degrees of not good. That matters, as does the Kansas City heat, and the slight Kansas City breeze. Conditions have been right for the team facing the Royals to score a lot of runs, and as luck would have it that team has been the Mariners.

Now, I don't just want to play party pooper, especially given how infrequently we get to feel excited about the Mariners' bats. What matters more than the opposing pitcher identity is the quality of the pitches getting hit. It's not like good pitchers always throw good pitches and bad pitchers always throw bad ones. Maybe Sanchez, Verdugo, and Mazzaro were throwing good stuff that was still getting punished. That's more difficult to analyze, but it's a distinct possibility.

Beyond that, recall that the Mariners were shut out by Aaron Cook, who is not good. They were shut out by Jason Marquis. They've been embarrassed by Tommy Milone. Every team gets to face average or weaker pitching, and it's better to hit it than not hit it. The Mariners couldn't help the fact that the Royals weren't going to present a daunting challenge; all they could do was try to score, and they've scored plenty. That's good. That's the point.

And so much of hitting in the Major Leagues, they say, is about confidence, about not just having your swing but believing in it. The Mariners'll have more confidence now than they did on Sunday, and maybe that's something to build off of. I don't know how much it was actually bothering Justin Smoak to hit balls hard and watch them die. Now he's hit balls hard and watched them leave the ballpark. That has to be good for the head, because nobody should want for Smoak to go all Jeff Cirillo. Or any of these hitters. Jeff Cirillo was bad and insane and I don't want the Mariners to be either of those.

What these two games have represented, for the offense, is a quick little minor-league rehab assignment. We've talked about how maybe Smoak or Dustin Ackley or Jesus Montero should go to Tacoma to work some things out. Sanchez, Verdugo, and Mazzaro have been Major League opponents, but realistically they're roughly triple-A caliber. The difference is that they've worn more expensive uniforms in front of more fans in a much nicer ballpark. They've also had the assistance of a Major League catcher and a Major League defense, but those were triple-A pitchers masquerading as something else, and the Mariners were able to hit them. That's good, but of course, now we want to see more. The rest of the season is supposed to be about development, and we'd like to see more and more problems disappear.

Tonight we got to see the main young hitters do what they could do a lot of at their peaks, should they ever arrive there. Jesus Montero drilled a double up the middle, to the right side of center. Justin Smoak pulled a line drive deep and just fair to left. Dustin Ackley launched a triple off the wall in center. Kyle Seager yanked a low-liner double. Michael Saunders crushed a pitch deep and out to straightaway center. Saunders hits very long home runs to center field that don't look like they were hit as well as they were, which speaks to Saunders' strength. I guess we didn't get much from Casper Wells, but he homered and tripled just yesterday and so he earned a day of rest.

Blake Beavan was more or less his usual cup-of-milk self, but the Mariners provided enough offensive support that the outcome was never in any real danger. Only fake danger, where a big lead becomes a less big lead and then you let yourself start believing in momentum. There is no momentum, as Lucas Luetge and Alcides Escobar demonstrated with their seventh-inning double play. But this was still very nearly a costly night, as Charlie Furbush was removed with an injury.

I don't think you need to know much of anything about biomechanics to look at Furbush's throwing motion and think "that doesn't seem like the most healthy way for a pitcher to throw." It's like an Andy Capp fight-cloud of angles and elbows, and it just seems like he's tempting fate by making overhand pitching his job. Maybe it turns out Furbush has wonderful mechanics, I couldn't tell you, but in the seventh inning Furbush gestured at his shoulder after throwing two pitches, and he came out. Replays indicated that he couldn't get himself loose. Immediately I feared the worst, because it played into my preconceived notion.

Furbush has been spectacular out of the bullpen for much of the season, a lefty who can handle both lefties and righties alike. Mike Blowers groaned and guessed that Furbush had done something to his rotator cuff after one particular replay, but I couldn't shake the labrum feeling. Not because I had any good reason, but because labrum injuries are the worst and I'm always worrying about the worst. In my head I started thinking about how things would look without having Furbush around for a while. I thought about how annoyed Steve Delabar would be having to fly back to Kansas City after just flying away from Kansas City. Not that he wouldn't be pleased to be going back to the Majors, but you don't think in the big picture after you've just unpacked your underwear and toiletries.

Pretty soon, word came back that Furbush had triceps tightness. Better than shoulder tightness, but possibly still something that could be connected to the shoulder. To me, Furbush wasn't yet out of the woods. But then the game ended and we got reports that Furbush threw pitches in the batting cage incident-free. He checked out just fine, and whatever he was feeling, he stopped feeling. Charlie Furbush doesn't have a tear anywhere in his shoulder. Charlie Furbush doesn't have to go on the disabled list. Charlie Furbush might be good to pitch tomorrow.

Generally, when you fear the worst, the truth ends up being not the worst, but something still more negative than positive. By all indications, Charlie Furbush couldn't be better. He could do jumping jacks. Right now he's probably asleep, but he could get up in the morning and do jumping jacks. That's a wonderful outcome to a potentially dreadful scenario.

The Mariners hit a lot, they won, and Charlie Furbush isn't actually injured. I've had Taco Tuesdays that weren't as good as this Tuesday. And I've never had a bad Taco Tuesday. I'm pretty sure such a thing doesn't exist. If it does, somewhere, then the US government might consider declaring war on it.

Kevin Millwood tomorrow. There's a chance it could be the last start he ever makes in a Mariners uniform. There's a chance it could be the last game any of tomorrow's Mariners play in a Mariners uniform. You wouldn't believe how many things there is a chance of.

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