Thanks a lot Mariners. A day after I defend you by discussing how the recent dearth of scoring was the product of an absurd slate of starting pitchers and that the team's offense will be fine, you post a zero against Nick Tepesch and Derek Lowe. Way to make me look smart.
I'm assuming that many of you hadn't heard of Tepesch until last week (I hadn't) or didn't know that Lowe was still in the league (guilty again), so it's hard to put a positive spin on yesterday's game. Jon tried to go the Brandon Maurer route, but frankly, I wasn't all that impressed with him either. Yes, he varied his approach, but he walked three, missed only three bats all night, and again demonstrated that lefties will give him problems. It's not really his fault -- growing pains are to be expected -- but I'm fairly convinced that his place on the Opening Day roster had as much to do with a lack of alternatives as anything else.
Anyways, enough about last night. The great thing about baseball is that a new day means a new game, and an opportunity to flush whatever may have happened last night -- or last week -- from memory.
Today, Aaron Harang takes on Justin Grimm. Grimm is a decent, if unheralded, young arm. The 24-year-old right-hander works with a straight fastball that reaches the mid-90's, a good curveball, and a sometimes decent change up. At his best, he'll pound the corners and induce plenty of weak ground balls. Basically, he's wired to frustrate the hell out of a fanbase starving for a bunch of runs.
Harang will need to do his best to keep the ball in the park. He was susceptible to the long ball even in his prime, and at this point, he'll need to be precise with his offerings because there are a lot of Rangers who can hit an 89-MPH fastball a long ways away.
Beyond today's game, I wanted to use this post as a catch-all for an observation I had about some of the young position players.
Predictably, the whispers from fans wanting to see Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak sent to Triple-A are growing louder. On the one hand, it's understandable. These three players were once supposed to compose the strength of the team and after watching them struggle in 2012, their collective ineptitude thus far in 2013 is disheartening.
That said, it doesn't make much sense to just send them away. Well, except for Montero, possibly. If Kelly Shoppach is going to catch five times a week, there would be some benefit to letting Montero play in the minors every day, particularly if the organization commits to teaching him how to play first base.
As for Smoak and Ackley, there's no magical elixir they can drink in Tacoma that will teach them how to hit. A demotion to Triple-A doesn't inherently build fundamentals; if anything, it robs them a chance to work through their struggles in an environment where they'll get meaningful feedback. You can make batting adjustments in both Seattle and Tacoma, but it'll be tougher to tell how well the changes are working without testing it against big league pitching.
Besides, there aren't really any good, win-now, alternatives to these players in the organization at the moment. I've generally conceptualized the 'Seattle needs Ackley, Smoak, and Montero to play well' narrative as a way of thinking about the M's as a playoff team, because, looking at the roster, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which the Mariners win a lot of games without meaningful contributions from those three. Speaking broadly though, the M's need them on the field whether they're 4-5 win players or not, because there's no depth at those positions at all.
The front office won't replace underperforming young players with even greener options. They don't want to rush Mike Zunino -- who before yesterday, was mired in an 0-20 slump with ten strikeouts -- or Nick Franklin, who lacks both a defensive position and a mature approach against left handed pitching. The Mariner brass also probably wants to avoid a situation where they start Robert Andino at second regularly or one where Kendrys Morales plays first while Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez platoon at DH. Neither of those are palatable options, and it just underscores how, even independent of player development considerations, the M's are best off playing Ackley and Smoak and hoping for the best.
Those three won't have a long leash forever: the M's won't run them out in the lineup everyday if they're still hovering around the Mendoza line with no power in late July. At this point though, the M's are best served by continuing to let Ackley and Smoak work through their issues in the majors (Montero too, if he has a place to play). It's the most competitive option and it's also best for their development.