Another day, another winnable ballgame...another loss. A better team might have swept the series, but the Mariners have to settle with a .500 road trip.
One bad pitch ended up costing Joel Pineiro the game, mostly because the offense couldn't get much going against Barry Zito. One look at the win expectancy chart reveals that the M's rarely had the upper hand this afternoon. Observe:
The best odds of winning came when Randy Winn doubled home the go-ahead run in the sixth. Unfortunately, Joel gave it away in the bottom half when Erubiel Durazo smashed a two-bagger that brought home the tying and go-ahead runs. Durazo would be tagged out going for third on the play, but the damage was done, and the Mariners couldn't recover.
It's a shame, too, because Joel wound up with a strong game. He pounded the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters and forcing them to swing earlier in the count. The result was that Pineiro got through eight innings on 100 pitches, giving him 261 pitches and 22.1 innings over his last three starts. On the year, he's averaging 12.8 pitches per inning and 3.02 pitches per batter, which is just incredible, essentially unsustainable efficiency.
Joel still didn't look like his normal self out there today. Although he was hitting the 90s from time to time and topping out at 92 - better than in his last start - his fastball averaged about 87mph, and you could count the number of breaking balls he threw on one hand (maybe Antonio Alfonseca's hand). His changeup looked good, settling in around 72-74 after a spotty first inning, but with a slower fastball, the lesser speed differential between the two pitches makes it easier for a batter to keep balanced at the plate. Pineiro made up for this potential problem by getting a lot of tail (in on righties) on his fastball. You wonder if he's been working on a new grip, one that allows him better movement at the expense of some velocity. Pay attention to that in his next few starts.
As if you needed any more proof that Dave Niehaus is living in the past, he began the broadcast by saying "We have a tremendous pitching matchup here for you today." Nevermind that Pineiro and Zito have combined for a 4.70 ERA since the start of 2004. Dave's not alone, though - I guarantee that both pitchers were overdrafted in your fantasy league.
Top of the eighth, 3-2 Oakland, Justin Duchscherer is brought in to relieve Barry Zito. Willie Bloomquist is set to lead off the inning. What does Hargrove do? Why, leave him in, of course. Bloomquist has been palatable - dare I say fairly productive? - against lefties in his career, including Zito, but he's always been downright awful against righties. With Wilson Valdez on the bench and ready to fill in at shortstop, why not pinch-hit Dobbs or - gasp - Choo in that situation? Bloomquist popped out.
The same situation replayed itself two batters later. With Jeremy Reed on first and one out, Miguel Olivo came up to the plate. Olivo's always been great against lefties and terrible against righties, and you've got Dobbs and Choo on the bench, so why not pinch-hit there? Wilson is certainly capable of coming in to catch a few innings. Olivo grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The frustration of the eighth paled in comparison with the horror of the ninth, though. After throwing 34 high-leverage pitches the day before, Octavio Dotel was summoned from the bullpen to close out the game and promptly walked the first two batters he faced on nine pitches. Adrian Beltre stood at the plate with a chance to redeem himself for blown opportunities of yore, and he STRUCK OUT LOOKING. IN THE NINTH INNING. OF A ONE-RUN GAME. I hardly had time to erupt in a furious rage before Richie Sexson grounded into a double play to end the game. Look at those Win Probability Added numbers - Betre and Sexson combined to hurt our odds of winning by 70%. Down by one in the ninth, you want your #3 and 4 hitters to have a chance to tie the game, but they bombed in spectacular fashion. Sexson's excused, because he's been the second-best hitter on the team so far, but Beltre's beginning to get on my nerves. I'm more than willing to give him all the time he needs to adjust, but it would really help if he'd show some signs of being on the verge of breaking out. This rut he's in, where any low breaking ball or high fastball can get him out, is wearing on me and, I suspect, every other Mariners fan.
Oh, and he's slow. Incredibly slow. He smoked a ball to the left side in the first, but Chavez was able to dive, gather the ball, and throw it to first before Beltre could reach the bag. That's the third or fourth time this season where he was retired on what should have been an infield hit.
Someone who is showing signs of progress is Miguel Olivo. Even though he went 0-2 today, he made Zito do a lot of work by fouling off some tough pitches. I'm usually not big on guys who make routine outs after long at bats, because an out's an out, but Olivo just doesn't feel like the easy punchout that he was a week or so ago. Since going 2-3 against Cleveland with two doubles, Olivo's hit .222.300/.333 with two walks and two strikeouts. It doesn't look like much, but compared with the .143/.163/.167 line and 13/1 K/BB ratio he had beforehand, it's an improvement. He barely missed a home run on his sacrifice fly today, as he just got under the ball.
Fun with Hendu:
A Google search for "magician's basket" yields one result. This is a step down from his problems with "adrenalated" on Saturday.
Yeah. Yesterday. In a day game.
Our three-time reigning Gold Glove second baseman lost a Scott Hatteberg pop-up in the bottom of the sixth and tripped over his own feet. You can't reasonably charge Boone with an error, since the ball landed about ten feet away, but he really should have had that ball. That Durazo followed with the two-run double only makes matters worse. Has Boone had a single good defensive game yet this year?
I think it's time to acknowledge the fact that, as good as he may be against other guys, Raul Ibanez just can't hit Barry Zito. Today's o'fer puts him at 5-29 in his career with zero walks and six strikeouts. He bails out whenever Zito throws one of those big curves, and you almost want to feel bad for Raul, because he shouldn't have to be in that situation to begin with.
By the same token, perhaps it's time for Hargrove to acknowledge that Jeremy Reed is a pretty good hitter, regardless of pitcher handedness. He went 2-2 off Zito (3-3 in the game) with a double to right field that nearly cleared the fence and might have ended Nick Swisher's life. Reed's up to .268/.362/.354 on the year, and he hasn't started to pepper the gaps with doubles yet. He and Ichiro are two guys who just impress you with every game they play.
The Mariners return home tomorrow for a three-game set with the division-leading Angels. Ryan Franklin will go up against his left-handed equivalent, with the first pitch scheduled for 10:05pm EDT.