As far as shutouts against nobody pitchers who enter the game with a 6.57 ERA go, this was one of the more predictable ones I've ever seen. Rodrigo Lopez's scoreless streak against the Mariners is up to 16.2 innings now, which is bad enough, but made more humiliating by the fact that I don't think he has 16.2 scoreless innings combined in all his starts against other teams all season.
Rodrigo Lopez doesn't throw particularly hard, he doesn't have great stuff, his command could be better, and he's not even a lefty, but he's a pitcher, and as we've learned from Jeremy Sowers, John Rheinecker, Josh Fogg, and, uh, Rodrigo Lopez (and Scott Kazmir, and Nate Robertson, and Barry Zito, and CC Sabathia, and Bartolo Colon, and Joe Blanton, and Joe Blanton) before him, anyone capable of throwing a baseball 60 feet (or, for Adam Jones, 55) stands a reasonable chance of shutting this lineup down on any given day.
We didn't learn anything new about the Mariner lineup this afternoon. When you go up there hacking and don't take walks, bad things can happen, even against bad pitchers. It's already happened literally a dozen times this season. There's no more reason to panic now than there was 24 hours ago - it's an aggressive offense, and the nature of the beast is that it readily alternates from looking spectacular to godawful in consecutive games. Look at it this way: at least it's unpredictable. I can't count how many committed relationships have gone sour due to lack of spontaneity. If nothing else, these guys will always keep you on your toes.
To the chart:
Biggest Contribution: Jamie Moyer, +6.1%
Biggest Suckfest: Ichiro, -13.8%
Most Important Hit: Johjima single, +6.1%
Most Important Pitch: Markakis double, -11.1%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +14.3%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -65.4%
$10 buys you the most expensive Rodrigo Lopez memorobilia available on eBay, the same place that wants $199 for a game-worn jersey soaked in Chan Ho Park's chest sweat. I'm just saying.
Anyway, this is sort of another edition of You Write The Recap!, since - as usual - work prevented me from catching most of an East Coast weekday ballgame. I'd go through the archived MLB.tv footage except, no, why would I? Brandon Fahey didn't even bat. Voluntarily watching a replay of this game when you already know the outcome is like walking into a rank frathouse and asking one of the brothers to fart in your nose because you want to know why everything smells so bad. Or something unpleasant, anyway. I guess I can't say for sure, since I'm not going to do it.
There's only one thing I want to talk about today before giving it over to you guys. Julio Mateo's been a sore spot for Mariner fans this year, the frustration of having to watch him pitch exceeded only by Mike Hargrove's maddening insistence on using him in high-leverage situations. Thus far he's been arguably the worst player on the team, possibly the biggest reason why the M's are two games under .500 instead of a few games over.
That said, there's reason to believe that Mateo may be able to finish the season more effectively than he's started it. What follows is a brief email exchange between myself and USSM's Dave from last night, with the relevant parts quoted. Let's get to it:
You have to do a frame by frame on Mateo's last inning vs some random appearance earlier. (Jason) Churchill noticed, and I agree, that his arm slot was much more exaggerated 3/4 that inning, and it really helped his slider.
Was it consistent, or just for his slider?
No, it was consistent. The delivery was pretty drastically different I think.
Jeff: (after Mateo allows a homer)
Probably worth noting that a new arm slot can't turn crap into gold.
For sure. Terrible pitch there. The only hope is that it might make his slider more effective, giving him something of an out pitch, which would be a huge improvement over the nothing he has now.
I'm on the run, but I thought I'd get that done and give you a look before I go.
Look at the difference in extension today - his arm is not bent at all. He's letting the ball go from as close to third base as he can possibly reach.
In both of the other ones, especially the April 22nd shot, you can see the elbow bent and his forearm aimed toward the press box.
Today's delivery reminds me a bit of Jeff Nelson - not that extreme, but clearly moving the release point towards the right hand batters box.
(Please ignore the red lines in the picture, as they were supposed to help but didn't, and now I can't get rid of them. Also, I want to re-state that this was Jason Churchill's observation, not my own, and that I wouldn't have heard about it at all last night if not for Dave clueing me in. Churchill has already written up a post about Mateo's altered delivery, which you can read here. You should be reading the rest of his site, too, because it's terrific.)
If these last two games are any indication, Julio Mateo is putting a modified release point to the test on the fly. Generally speaking, mechanical adjustments take a while to get plugged into someone's muscle memory so it's better to work on them over the winter, but Gil Meche's experimented with his delivery during the season on countless occasions, so it's not like this is without precedence. I don't know what prompted Mateo's change, but it's probably something along the lines of he sucks and wants to keep his job, which is as good a motivational tool as any I suppose.
Anyway, to understand the effect of his new throwing angle, we have to first review what kind of pitcher he was up until last night. Julio Mateo was predominantly a fastball/"slider" guy, with slider in quotes because it was more of a loopy slurve devoid of any sharp break. He was an extreme flyball pitcher because he released the ball next to his ear, forcing him to work up in the zone. He didn't throw very hard and pretty much served his stuff up to hitters on a silver platter, and anyone who knows anything could've told you that he was as close to "done" as anyone can be when he's still collecting a big league paycheck.
Now we're seeing a bit of a difference. It's a little tough to compare since Baltimore's center field camera angle is so different than everyone else's, but two things stand out:
(1) Mateo's arm is no longer bent at release, using a 45 degree throwing angle to let go of the ball closer to third base
(2) Mateo's getting a little more forward extension than before, releasing the ball closer to home plate
You're heard #2 before. It's the same thing Don Cooper and the White Sox fixed with Matt Thornton (albeit to a lesser extent, in Mateo's case) - lengthening the stride allows a pitcher to get more on top of the ball and let go closer to the batter, which means the ball arrives quicker than it would otherwise. This increase in "perceived velocity" makes it more difficult to pick up on the pitch and make solid contact, thereby working to the pitcher's advantage. Mateo's improvement here is subtle, and I'm going to wait until I get another camera angle before I jump to any conclusions, but it certainly looks like he's made a bit of a change.
The more important point, though, and the one that Jason and Dave were talking about, is #1. Mateo's arm angle is different than it used to be - his right arm is straight at release now, where it used to be bent. The hope is that this'll improve his slider and give him a reliable second (first?) pitch, and if these two appearances are any indication, it's working. For the first time in forever Mateo's slider has actually had some bite to it and induced a couple awkward swings.
Here's how this works. If you have a baseball handy, pick it up with your throwing hand and hold it with a slider grip. Now hold your arm out as if you're just about to throw a pitch, with the elbow bent so that the forearm is pointing at a ~60 degree angle with the horizontal. You'll find that your middle and index fingers are just about on top of the ball, and the only way to give them a little tilt is to bend your wrist (which I don't suggest trying). A proper slider has to be thrown with your middle finger more towards the side, not on top - if you try to throw it with your fingers on top, it will have very little break and look more like a slower fastball than a breaking pitch. Because of this, Mateo had to try and "induce" more break by twisting his wrist and/or forearm upon release, which is a good way to make a pitch a lot loopier, but a bad way to give it bite. Hence the slurve Mateo featured for the first several months of the season. He made that pitch break with his arm, not the seams on the ball.
Now, with the same grip, hold the ball out with a straight arm ~45 degrees above the horizontal. Suddenly your middle finger is practically on the side of the ball, resting against a seam, with your index finger supplying stability just above it (but still not on top). Without twisting your forearm or bending your wrist at all, simulate a throwing motion (just like you're throwing a fastball, only with your fingers at an angle). Your middle finger "cuts" through the side of the ball, which is exactly how you throw a good slider. The break is sharper, and because you're not twisting anything when you throw, the ball's also a little faster. By slightly changing the angle of your forearm, you've gone from throwing a crappy slurve to a decent slider.
This is what Julio Mateo has done. Or at least, this is what it looks like Julio Mateo has done. By changing his arm angle he's essentially given himself a decent new pitch at the expense of an old, lousy one. It's not quite JJ Putz's new splitter, but it's something, and it certainly makes Mateo look better than he did a week ago. This slider has the potential to be a pitch that he can use to miss bats and get outs, which he hasn't been able to do all season long.
Also, by releasing closer to third base, Mateo gets the added benefit of being tougher on right-handed hitters because the ball's pretty much coming from behind their backs. A handy rule of thumb is that, the closer a guy is to being sidearm, the better he'll be against same-handed hitters. Mateo's lowered angle will make it more difficult for righties to pick up the ball. It'll help lefties, but lefties have beat the living snot out of him this year anyway, so it's not like he could possibly get any worse against them. It's probably as much of a win/win situation as you could ask for.
All that said, it's still important to remember that Julio Mateo still has a bad fastball, a bad changeup, and a delivery that leaves pitches up in the zone, where they're liable to be hit deep into the outfield. Just like Gil Meche's mechanical adjustment that I talked about a few weeks ago, this change should help Mateo pitch better, but it won't necessarily make him great, or good, or even league-average. He's probably still the worst pitcher on the staff, and the next time I see him in a high-leverage situation I'll complain just as much as I have in the past.
Just don't be surprised if he sucks a little less over the final two months than he did over the first four. Sometimes little changes like this don't accomplish anything, but other times they can make all the difference in the world. For the first time all year we have a reason to keep the TV on when Mateo gets summoned from the bullpen. Given what he's looked like so far, I don't think we could really ask for much more.
Felix and Erik Bedard tomorrow at 12:05pm PDT.