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A few weeks ago, I mentioned how these kinds of losses were getting easier to take. It sucks to lose, but you kind of get numb to the agony, and at the end of the year, what's the difference between 68-94 and 69-93? That one tough loss will just blend in with the several dozen other tough losses, so it's not like there are going to be lingering psychological effects for anyone on the team. They're big boys. They can take it.

It felt different last night, though. This wasn't Eddie Guardado spoiling a one-run lead for Jamie Moyer. This was Felix, and he was one out away from finishing what he started in spectacular fashion. As little significance as they may have on a broader scale, complete games mean a lot to pitchers, especially those of the 19 year old variety who're looking to make up for a bad game against the same lineup a little while earlier. Throw in the fact that it would've been the first of Felix's career, and I guarantee you that no one felt worse than he did when Mench's ball dropped in for a hit. And, at that instant, you couldn't help but feel bad for Felix, because he worked too hard to have it ruined like that.

Oh, and then the Mariners went on to lose. But, yeah, the ninth inning sucked a lot more than the eleventh.

Jockeying-For-Draft-Position Update:

With Seattle's loss and Tampa Bay's win, the Mariners are now just a game away from picking fourth in next year's amateur draft. They're two behind Colorado for third, and - as a long shot - three and a half behind Pittsburgh for second.

Biggest Contribution: Yuniesky Betancourt, +48.1%
Biggest Suckfest: Ichiro, -27.7%
Most Important Hit: Betancourt single, +17.8%
Most Important Pitch: Mench single, -38.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -10.7%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -46.7%

(What is this?)

A lot of people get nervous when they see "114-75" next to a young pitcher's name in a box score. A three-digit pitch count has acquired some sort of bizarre mystique over the past few years, as if throwing pitch #100 is a thousand times more likely to bust someone's arm than pitch #99. Whenever this comes up, you're likely to see the term "kid gloves" used on at least three or four separate occasions.

Don't be that guy. Not now, not with Felix. Out of 164 guys who've thrown at least 1000 pitches on the year, Felix ranks 76th in Pitcher Abuse Points per start. He's averaging just 91.5 pitches per start and, more importantly, just 14.4 pitches per inning, which puts him in the bottom tenth percentile of the league (or pretty damn close to it, at least). Roughly two-thirds of at bats against him have come with the bases empty, generally considered to be lower-stress situations.

Arm and shoulder injuries are caused almost exclusively by pitching with screwy mechanics. These can be due to:

  1. A pitcher's natural motion
  2. Pitching while fatigued
  3. Pitching in high-leverage situations
  4. Overthrowing (often caused by #3)
Felix's natural mechanics aren't perfect - he's still jerking his head and throwing a little across his body - but there's nothing in there indicating that he's taking a giant risk whenever he throws a pitch. There's no indication that he's getting fatigued, as his velocity has remained consistent into the later innings, there's no performance slippage evident in his splits, and his pitch counts have been reasonable. He's not spending much time in stressful situations, with a smaller percentage of pitches thrown with men on base or in scoring position than usual (and he's also, y'know, on a shitty team). And finally, while there have been a few rumblings here and there that Felix has a tendency to overthrow every so often, I haven't seen much evidence of that so far.

Felix cruises. He'll dial it up when he needs to, but as Dave pointed out last night, he'll also put the ball over the plate and let the guys behind him do the work if he thinks he can get away with it. Felix will never be confused with someone like Ryan Franklin who pitches to contact, but he doesn't try to strike everyone out, and that helps him retain his strength and energy for a longer amount of time than you'd expect. I haven't gone back through the video to look at his delivery and velocity from the end of the game last night, but I'm guessing that the Felix we saw pitch the ninth was the same Felix we saw pitch the first. Pitch counts mean different things for different guys, and as long as your pitcher is out there with consistent mechanics and consistent velocity, you don't have anything to worry about.

Somebody woke up Jose Lopez. Another strong effort last night gives him a nine-game hitting streak and a .290/.340/.495 line since being recalled from Tacoma in late August, with 15 of his 27 hits going for extra bases. The power is new, and it improves his long-term outlook by drastically reducing his dependence on batting average. Next year, Lopez is a pretty good bet to have Robinson Cano's 2005 with a few less singles and a few more walks. That kind of productivity coming from a cheap second baseman with reliable defense puts the Mariners at a distinct advantage over much of the rest of the league.

Don't look now, but Yuniesky Betancourt has more walks drawn than strikeouts in September. In fact, three of the least-disciplined hitters on the team - Betancourt, Beltre, and Dobbs - have combined for 22 free passes in 249 at bats this month. Hardly a great ratio, but still a considerable improvement. Continued control of the strike zone is particularly important for Betancourt, because he clearly lacks the power to make up for his other offensive shortcomings. He'll always show a slightly inflated Isolated Power rating because of his triples, but that's more about his speed than anything else - turn those triples into doubles and you find out that the guy's pop is positively Sean Burroughsesque.

Speaking of Greg Dobbs, he's batting .303 this month, but with a paltry .696 OPS. Some other September performances around the league:

Edwin Encarnacion (.697 OPS, .212 BA)
Justin Morneau (.688 OPS, .221 BA)
Eric Chavez (.703 OPS, .227 BA)
Aaron Boone (.719 OPS, .244 BA)
Brad Wilkerson (.717 OPS, .247 BA)
Jeremy Reed (.699 OPS, .250 BA)

The list goes on. It's really encouraging to know that Dobbs has to bat .300 in order to only suck a little bit. But hey, he's in a groove.

Chris Young and Joel Pineiro tonight at 7:05pm PDT.