USA TODAY Sports
In baseball games that don't count or really mean anything the Mariners continue to assert they are a dominant force. If no one's really trying to win.
Intro: Hello Lookout Landing. My name is Nathan. I don't have a long history with writing about baseball but I have a going on three decades history of playing, watching, reading and thinking about it. Jon was nice enough to have me at Pro Ball NW where my contributions were far scarcer than I'd like. On the scout scale I'm a 40 analyst, a 55 writer and a solid 70 at forcing narrative. But tools are just tools which ain't nothin' without production so let's produce.
It means nothing right? The Mariners defeated the defending champion Giants 6-3. They are 17-7 in Cactus League play. They lead all teams in runs, home runs, slugging and numerous other offensive categories. The Spring optimism felt by players, announcers and romantic minded fans has been buoyed further by the team's almost universally encouraging exhibition season. Well unfortunately it does mean nothing. But there are degrees of nothing and this nothing probably means closer to something than many. Seattle put out close to a regular season lineup against an experienced starter. The team started one of its more heralded prospects on the mound and, most "something" of all the game was on television at a time when most of us could watch. For a game no one will remember, this was one a lot of us looked forward to.
The headliner was what I imagine was for many, myself included, the first real opportunity to watch Brandon Maurer. The first impression was "oh my goodness what a pleasant and unique choice of facial hair." The second had more to do with pitching, and it was pretty damn good. Maurer threw five innings, allowed one run, struck out four and seemed well in command of his three main pitches. Pitchers, for me, are baseball's truest artists and the experience of watching each one provides a different emotional response. For Maurer I was struck by the sense of serenity I felt watching him work. Other than one pitch that drilled Gregor Blanco he left Kelly Shoppach's glove very still. The simple way to look at it is to note that Maurer threw 64 pitches and 67% of them for strikes. To watch it seemed as though a far greater percentage than that filled their purpose. It was pleasant, it was exciting. It was a guy who is going to pitch in Seattle this year.
To bullet points:
One of Maurer's most "un-Dude" moments came in the first inning. After a HBP and single put runners at 1st and 3rd with one out Maurer faced Brandon Belt. The pitch selection was compelling as seen below:
In one of the more high-leverage at bats of the game against a hitter with decent to plus power Maurer went change down, change away, slider down. It is, of course, Spring Training and, of course, one hitter. But Maurer's willingness to use all off speed pitches in a high leverage situation is the kind of attribute than can maximize the effectiveness of stuff. It appears he knows how to pitch.
- The other major prospect to make an appearance in the game was Nick Franklin. Pleasing to behold were not one but two hits from the right side, including an opposite field double in the gap off Barry Zito. For whatever reason I've never had high hopes for Franklin. Reports of defensive struggles and a lackluster showing in Tacoma last year didn't help. But with Ackley doomed by our fair predecessor's comparing him to Jeremy Reed there exists the very real possibility that the team will have a need in the middle infield within a year or two. Also, having never seen him play before I can see why he's eating so much damn food. The guy looks like Kyle Seager after a strictly observed Ramadan.
- Many are looking forward to this season as the year when the Mariners offense emerges from the dregs of being the Uwe Boll of baseball. While there are reasons for optimism the offense tonight showed its weaknesses. Thirteen strike outs, three walks, "limited" mobility on the basepaths. At one point Barry Zito struck out five hitters in a row. The offense is different in that it has a much more traditional construction, featuring lumbering sluggers in the middle. The caveat is those lumbering sluggers all have high strikeout, low walk skillsets and my god, Michael Morse is a slugger what in the actual hell happened why do they always get better when they leave?
- Kendrys Morales hit home run number five of the spring. He and Morse are now tied for second and first respectively in home runs. To me the Morales acquisition has always been the most compelling of the offseason. The Mariners traded a league averagish starter for a player with 4 win upside. The injury history represents risk but no team wins a pennant with place holders at every position. Stars are necessary and while Morales may be a longer bet than some his price was relatively low. His big Spring is nothing but encouraging.
- I really do not like Brandon Maurer's facial hair. The entire state of facial hair in baseball right now is an abomination. The A's look like they're running a Sam Beam lookalike contest. The sooner we can get back to sweet, sweet afros and sideburns the better.
I cannot overstate my excitement at contributing here. Lookout Landing shares space with scotch, Mussorgsky and kayaking at the apex of my esteem. I look forward to your criticism, your encouragement and your conversation.