I guess I'll come right out and admit it - right now I'm finding it hard to get excited about the Mariners. Watching them win on Monday was enjoyable, but I didn't see God, and then these last two nights, while the losses have been disappointing, both of them rolled right off my back. Seeing Morrow, Batista, and Silva throw away two games - these are things that you'd think would evoke a visceral reaction, but instead I've been able to move from MLB.tv to the Win Expectancy chart after the final play without skipping a beat. I haven't cursed once.
It's not that I've lost any interest. I'm still every bit as interested as I've always been. Being able to watch Felix, and Gutierrez, and Jakubauskas, and Bedard, and everybody else...I've enjoyed watching them and trying to pick out little strengths and weaknesses based on what I see. So it's not that the games aren't fun. I quite enjoy on-the-fly observation and evaluation.
But the raw emotion isn't there. The living and dying by every pitch isn't there. From Felix to Gutierrez's homer to Griffey's homer to last night's meltdown to Silva's inadequacy today, I've had ample opportunity to wind up the crazy machine that lives in my temples, but still, nothing. Nothing more than a couple claps, three howls, and five seconds of holding my head in my hands. It's weird, and it feels a lot like last summer, even though this is the very definition of a brand new year.
I dunno. Maybe I'm still getting getting accustomed to having baseball season back. Maybe it's hard to balance being a fan and an analyst. Maybe I'm paying too much attention to the game threads. There are any number of possible reasons why this is how I feel right now. But while I know the emotion is inside of me somewhere, I have to wonder if the real reason it has yet to surface is because my brain still thinks this team is bad. I still feel the same kind of emotional indifference that I did under Bavasi, and though I know we have newer and better people running the show these days, I wonder if my brain won't care until they generate results. Until they prove that they really are going to make this team relevant again. If that's the case, it's not something I'm proud of, but it's also something I can understand. At this point, when it comes to baseball, I'm sure my brain has the trust issues of a battered wife.
At the end of the day, you can't force emotional investment. You have to let it develop organically. So with that in mind, I'm kind of playing the waiting game with my own head. Is winning the only thing I need for the caring to come back? I don't know. But I'd sure love to find out.
- I'm guessing Carlos Silva wants 2009 to represent a fresh start more than pretty much anybody else, so that probably wasn't the season debut he had in mind. He barely had a chance to work up a sweat before Minnesota put four on the scoreboard courtesy of a pair of two-run homers, and once you've allowed four runs through your first ten batters faced, it's hard to salvage an outing. Silva was able to make it through five innings, but he looked like exactly the same guy we saw a year ago (were we supposed to expect something different?), and the six runs the Twins charged to his ERA wound up being enough to win the game.
Both home runs came on changeups, which is interesting, since Silva only threw four of them. He also only threw ten sliders, which means that, of his 98 pitches, 84 (84!) were fastballs. Over the last few seasons, Silva's gone away from his fastball a little bit in order to throw more changes, but tonight was something straight out of his 2005 game log, a season in which he threw 84% heaters. It's worth pointing out that 2005 was also the best season of Silva's career. In case you wanted a silver lining.
The negatives tonight were the home runs, the 1.5 swinging strikes (one was a checked swing that went too far), and the command that, while decent, wasn't good enough for Silva to be effective. He only started 14 of 24 hitters with strikes, and all of the damage was done after he had fallen behind in the count. For Silva to be any kind of decent, he needs to attack the strike zone like he attacks [deleted, fat joke]. He didn't do that tonight, and he paid for it.
The lone positive is that he generated 13 grounders on 20 balls in play, for a groundball rate better than any he posted in any individual start last season. Silva used to be more of a groundballer than we saw in 2008, so his being able to recover some of that would be a big step on the road back towards respectability. It's something.
All in all, this was a start that would've fit in pretty well with Silva's season a year ago, but being that I'm trying to let everyone else start from scratch, I'm going to go easy here. Do better, God dammit. We're boned if you don't.
- I haven't seen Kevin Slowey very much, so maybe I'm missing something, but from what I saw tonight, he doesn't throw the most impressive slider. At least not as far as pitches capable of missing bats are concerned. It has a decent amount of movement, but the bulk of that is along a horizontal plane, as the pitch doesn't have very much vertical drop. The one he threw to Jose Lopez in the fourth was a huge mistake. Where a normal slider would've broken down and stayed around the inner black, Slowey's sat and spun right into Lopez's wheelhouse, eventually ending up floating in a sea of white people beyond the left field fence. I'm glad Lopez took it deep but honestly, given the pitch, I would've been embarrassed if he didn't.
- Russell Branyan's homer, however, wasn't a gimme at all. Branyan got himself behind 0-2, but he worked the count full and got a belt-high changeup off the outside corner. And where you'd think a changeup off the outside corner would be a bad pitch to swing at on a full count, Branyan's a big guy, and the pitch allowed him to get his arms fully extended. Destructive things happen when Branyan gets his arms fully extended. The ball easily cleared the dead center fence as the first of what ought to be several mammoth home runs that come off his bat. He really is exactly as advertised, perhaps moreso than any other player in baseball.
Overall it was a good night for Branyan at the plate, if a standard one. He hit a home run, struck out twice, worked two 0-2 counts full, and drew a walk in a nine-pitch at bat that saw him foul off three pitches and take another two close ones. He will not have a single boring at bat against a right-hander all season long.
- In the third inning, Griffey yanked a pitch into the right-center gap and decided it was in his best interests to stay on first base. Were I a new manager that alone would've been all the evidence I'd need to never start him in the outfield ever again.
- Ronny Cedeno, meanwhile, looked pretty comfortable out in left, gliding easily around to record four putouts. If the Mariners end up competing for anything, I'd probably rather have him out there when one of the starters needs a rest than Wlad or Griffey, lack of power at the plate be damned. Once you get the sweet taste of defense on your tongue you never want to brush your teeth.
- Chris Jakubauskas made his Major League debut today in relief of Silva and I don't know that it could have gone any better. There wasn't the slightest hint of nervousness - he just came right in and got ahead of his first batter before striking him out on five pitches. He went on to work a pair of scoreless innings, flashing a 90mph fastball, a changeup with a 10mph speed differential, and a curve that, believe it or not, moved more than Bedard's. It's that last thing that took me by surprise, because I had no idea he had it in him. It looked good and it looked sharp. We'll have to see how well he can command it over subsequent outings, but knowing that he has a potentially effective breaking ball to pair with his solid change makes me more willing to consider that he's a little more than simply replacement-level. At least out of the bullpen. It was a stellar debut.
- Two other things that I liked about Jakubauskas' appearance:
(1) he worked with a quick, steady tempo. I love a pitcher who works quickly more than I can express. It's more enjoyable to watch, and it seems so much more conducive to settling into a groove. If you're feeling good, get the ball and throw the ball. Think about it. How many mound slugs do you see winning Cy Youngs? I can already feel myself falling in love.
(2) he pulled off a motherfucking daylight play. With two on and two down in the bottom of the seventh, he glanced back at Michael Cuddyer and, when Yuni broke for second, wheeled around and threw a perfect strike to the left of the base to end the inning. Who does that? Who pulls off a God damned daylight play in the Major Leagues? It's so delightfully high school. Pitcher pickoffs at first are cool and unusual, but pitcher pickoffs at second are another thing entirely. Tonight Ryan Feierabend sleeps with Lady Obsolete.
- Not to be outdone, Mark Lowe might've thrown the inning of his life. Coming off a miserable Spring Training, Lowe set down all three batters he faced while generating seven swinging strikes on seven sliders. Seven out of seven. I don't know if he could've completely alleviated people's concerns any faster. Pitchers talk about how much better their stuff feels once they get out of the Arizona air, and after seeing Lowe dominate today and Corcoran pitch well last night, I'm beginning to think that staging bullpen competitions in Peoria is a pretty fucking stupid idea.
- I wonder how Tim Wakefield feels knowing he throws his fastball as fast as Chris Jakubauskas throws intentional balls.
Early one tomorrow, as Jarrod Washburn goes up against whatever has taken residence beneath Glen Perkins' chin.