Roenis Elias is fun. Though there have been rumblings that Elias has an outside chance at making the Mariners' starting rotation when the club heads north in just two weeks, it's amusing to pause and enjoy what we see in him right now. He's an unheralded lefty who can get ahead with a heavy fastball that touches 95, and then bring down the hammer to finish a guy off.
And when he does, it's a sight to behold. Though he only had two strikeouts in the game today, boy were they pretty. I encourage you to watch the full highlights if you haven't already, but here are those two big yakkers for Ks.
On both of these, check out how close Elias is to hitting Zunino's target. With the first, he does hang it a bit—though not by too much. On the second, he drills Z's mitt and whoever that hapless soul is misses making contact by a good six inches.
And because two just isn't enough, here's one more strikeout on that beautiful curve, from earlier this spring.
After today's enjoyable start, I did what I did when James Jones caught my (and others') attention and set out on the web to find out more about him. Unfortunately, there isn't as much as I would've liked to find—especially considering Elias' interesting narrative (more on that in a minute)—but there were a few interesting snippets worth sharing.
As with any player who's spent time recently in Jackson, I was curious what Generals broadcaster Chris Harris might've said at various points. Before the game today, he shared this opinion:
Love the look that Roenis Elias is getting by Mariners. Mature beyond his years and never flusters. Devastating curve ball from left side.— Chris Harris (@CHarris731) March 16, 2014
And, really, for Harris' best take on Elias you actually don't even have to leave this site as he spoke with Scott for the podcast just last September. The full comments, if you'd like to hear them, begin at 47:30. But here are the excerpts I found interesting.
I would venture to say, outside of Taijuan Walker, he was our best pitcher, as far as starting pitchers this year...I love talking to scouts when they’re around and see what they think of players and I always ask them about his curveball and they always had the same comment about his curveball—one of the best left-handed curveballs that they had ever seen.
But what he said next, when paired with something revealed today, is noteworthy.
Harris, in September:
It’s interesting watching him pitch because, throughout the game, he changes his pitching motion—he’ll almost do a Hideo Nomo motion, he’ll lower his arm angle at times during the game. Several times through the lineup he’ll give hitters a different type of look. It keeps you definitely on your toes because you’re curious what he’s going to do on the mound in certain situations.
Just on the first play through, during transcription, I immediately thought "Well, that can't be a good idea." And I'm not the only one to think so.
From Bob Dutton's postgame blog post today:
Make no mistake: Elias isn’t a finished product. McClendon said he arrived in camp still delivering pitches from five different arm angles because, in his words, "I’m from Cuba."
The Mariners quickly changed that.
"I’ve noticed a big difference," Elias said. "That’s really helped out. When I went to one motion, I saw a little spike in velocity and control. So, that’s really helped out. You guys saw the results today."
We did see the results today, and most of it was impressive. But he did have two walks to go with two strikeouts—and on the spring he currently sits at four punch-outs to go with six walks. Though, I will say, it's something to keep an eye on. Elias, as evidenced there, believes the change has made a difference for him in two key areas and—like Abraham Almonte's battle back from alcoholism—it adds a variable to the equation that is his complex narrative. James Paxton largely credits a more refined delivery to his success, so it isn't as if it can't make a big difference.
But, in speaking momentarily of Elias' narrative, it's one worth familiarizing yourself with if you haven't already.
Elias defected from Cuba in 2010, making the decision "spur of the moment" before having to wait weeks for a phone call saying everything was ready for his journey. He got the call on October 26th that year, telling him to head to the coast at 3:00 am. From there, he spent 30 hours in a raft traveling from his native Cuba to Cancun, Mexico. Once there, he hid in a hotel room for weeks while waiting for the necessary paperwork that'd allow him to live legally in the country. Then, after that, the next step in his life and baseball career began.
But it wasn't all downhill from there. After traveling 1,600 miles to Monterrey, Mexico and trying out for a team, he only made the club's "B" squad and was told he didn't have a chance of getting signed by an MLB team. They, of course, were wrong. Elias made it to a couple open tryouts the following off-season, and on his second try he caught the eye of a Mariners scout.
Three professional seasons have passed since then, and Elias sits now with an outside chance of making the jump from Jackson to Seattle.
Of course, we've seen this before. Just last year, Brandon Maurer dominated the Cactus League before having a rough go in the majors, right from the jump. Part of it was his repertoire and inability to get lefties out at the game's highest level, but at the same time, he seemed to get rattled.
If Elias makes the same jump, from AA to the majors, there's reason to think that if he does struggle it won't be because he came in bright-eyed—at least, that's if you were to ask one of his former mangers. In the article linked to above, Pedro Grifol—then the manager for the High Desert Mavericks and himself the son of a Cuban defector—had this to say on Elias:
"The one common denominator is if you ask (Cuban players) about pressure, this is not pressure for them," Grifol said. "Pressure for them is that anticipation to the day they defect from Cuba, knowing that if they got caught, there’s no telling what could happen.
"Once you go through that experience in life, knowing that you’re leaving and you’re risking your life out in the ocean or you’re risking getting caught and having to face whoever you have to face back home, once you go through that experience, this isn’t pressure."
We'll see if Elias does end up in the rotation. With the club already depending on Paxton, Ramirez and Baker to go 2-3-4, with Blake Beavan, Randy Wolf and Hector Noesi as alternatives for that #5 spot, Elias himself summed it up perfectly in speaking to reporters today.