Well, it's official. Taijuan Walker will be pitching in Houston with a Mariners uniform this Friday. He will wear #27 and either strikeout a lot of Astros, or get shelled early and hurt his arm. That, or something in between, more likely.
And this is, if anything, a move to further instigate fan interest in a club currently sitting on an 0-6 homestand that saw staff ace Felix Hernandez lose two games, including today's nightmare. Fan interest is a pretty crappy thing to design roster moves around, but it's clearly one of the motivating factors in this decision. And besides--as much as we want to pretend it's not the case, fan interest (and money) is the absolute, number one, bottom line goal of every single team throughout all of professional sports. League by league, sport by sport, country by country.
And after today's game, I almost can't blame them for calling their top pitching prospect up. Yes, it's a rushed decision. Walker is already nearing an innings limit that will be met with a few starts. Yes, the season is lost, and starting him now actually limits his future club control while he pitches games that don't matter. Yes, it's at least arguable it will do more harm than good, whether that's true or not.
But you know what? Today, the Mariners' biggest drawing star gave up 11 hits to the Texas Rangers and only struck out 2 over three innings and change of work. Fangraphs has it at exactly three, but he pitched into the fourth, giving up two of that inning's 5 runs. (As a side note, the last time he went 3 or less innings, not counting a few close calls last year? April 18th, 2007. That was a game against the Twins where Felix faced six batters in the first inning before being pulled. He was 21 years old. I think these numbers are a bit skewed, as he should have pitched something like 3.2 today, which puts him in line with a couple of 2012 starts. But someone help me here)
Ultimately, it was just an unmitigated disaster all around. Felix only escaped the first without runs, and was charged with 8 earned runs. His ERA is up to 2.97, and while we might not all put a lot of stock into that, some people do. Meaning: it's pretty safe to say that Cy Young award will be in Max Scherzer's hands without a debate in a couple of months.
There were some bright spots from the M's today. Well, actually, that might be wording it too strongly. There were some spots that weren't chiseled with black scratches and dipped in week-old chewing tobacco:
- Brandon Maurer pitched 4 innings of long relief and struck out 4 Rangers' hitters after relieving Felix in the fourth inning. He's been so inconsistent all year, and after somewhat replacing Noesi in the journeyman role, outings like this are good for his arm to notch some big league experience without sinking any ships. He was charged with 3 runs, including an Adrian Beltre homer on only his second pitch, but he settled in pretty well, striking out the side in the fifth, and only really falling apart in the seventh, where he gave up a leadoff dinger to Mitch Moreland, a few singles, and finally plunked Ian Kinsler as he began to lose command of his curveball. 4 innings later, he headed back to the bullpen. Taijuan Walker's cellphone rang.
Dustin Ackley, everybody. I don't quite understand what's going on, and while he is currently holding onto a pretty unsustainable BABIP (almost .400 in 20 games), he is definitely approaching his at bats better, not staring at outside corner pitches, being aggressive within reason. And this is the magic of BABIP. Even 20 games is too small a sample size to really make a quantifiable statement about a hitter. Yes, he can't ride a .400 average all year. But guess what? He was riding a .230 BABIP during his first 20 games of the season. That's also unsustainable, on average. He's up to .305 on the year, displaying how "hot streaks" supplement "cold streaks," and in reality, large sets of numbers even out after a period of time. Dustin Ackley hit a home run today, tripling his homers year-to-date in only four games. He also hit a double, suggesting his .346 slugging percentage might need a couple more games to get to a realistic number. There is hope for the guy, as much as we all had written him off to whatever island we sent Justin Smoak to in our dreams last year.
- Kyle Seager hit a home run off the deck of the Hit it Here cafe. I don't really need to talk a bunch about Kyle Seager, because we all know about the guy. He finished the day with two hits. And you know what else? Brad Miller went 2-4 with a walk in a tiny ninth-inning rally that would've been cathartic had the Rangers not been up nine-trillion to one. And while Franklin still obviously needs to figure something out right now, here's where we stand: three of our cost-controlled, young prospect starting position players have been consistently performing for a stretch of time. While much of the team is floundering--and who knows if Ackley is going to be in centerfield (or even on the Mariners) next year, a core foundation has proven itself ready to play baseball even when the opposing team has 17 hits and the game has turned into button mashing with a two-year old. This is something to be excited about. This is something to be patient about. I couldn't tell you what it means about today, because let's be honest, most of us stopped caring about halfway through this nightmare. But at least it's something.