With an eight-game unbeaten streak on the line, the Mariners found themselves in the unfortunate position of trailing 5-4 headed into the bottom of the ninth. Looking to get a rally started, Michael Saunders chopped an infield grounder and tried to leg it out, but first base umpire Scott Barry ruled that shortstop Edward Maysonet's throw beat Saunders to the bag. It sure didn't look that way on replay, however, and Dustin Ackley and Luis Rodriguez - surely discouraged - flew out to end the game and end the run. A loss, but a loss with an asterisk. Mark the name "Scott Barry" down in your burn book. This was a grave injustice.
On to what was important, by which I mean the four innings thrown by Michael Pineda:
- I wrote down a lot of notes on Pineda's performance. Probably more than I should have, but it's just been so long since I got to watch a baseball game that I cared about on TV, so maybe all that note-taking energy was bottled up. I will try now to highlight the important bits and skip over what I thought was relevant, but wasn't really.
The main thing I think we saw tonight was that the Brewers were sitting on Pineda's fastball. Of their seven hits, six came against the heater, and many of them were hit very well. They weren't on the defensive; rather, they took an aggressive approach and made a lot of solid contact. The reason they were able to do this with success? Pineda's secondary pitches weren't on point. We saw a few swings and misses at sliders when batters were caught off guard and wound up way out in front of the pitch, but by and large neither the slider nor the change was anything to glowingly write home about, which allowed the Brewers' hitters to stay back.
His slider was inconsistent. Some of them spun out of his hand and didn't have much in the way of movement. And some of them were terrific, diving like splitters and giving the hitters no chance. The potential of the pitch is obvious, and we know Pineda is rather fond of it. But he's still searching for that consistent delivery that will give him consistent movement and consistent location.
And his changeup didn't look like a weapon. He only threw six of them. One of them got crushed. Only one of them got into that low-away corner where you like to see it. They had the right kind of run and dive to them, but unfortunately the location wasn't quite there, rendering the pitch ineffective.
A key at bat was Pineda vs. lefty Brandon Boggs in the second. Pineda immediately got ahead 0-2. Boggs, though, was able to work an 11-pitch walk, because Pineda wasn't able to put him away. He tried with two changeups, but they didn't go where he wanted and they wound up down and in. He tried with two sliders, but they were too elevated. And he tried with his heater, but Boggs was locked in on that pitch. At one point Pineda seemed to grow a little frustrated and badly overthrew a fastball that missed by a mile.
Even with his issues, Pineda can pitch to big league righties right now, and he can succeed. He did strike out Ryan Braun twice. But lefties - against lefties, I'm not convinced. Pineda had six at bats against lefties today. They recorded a single, a double, a triple, and a walk. The changeup he threw tonight was not a Major League changeup. It needs work.
I do need to say that this was only one start, and only four innings. We clearly didn't see Pineda at his best, and we may not have even seen Pineda at his average. So it's imperative not to arrive at sweeping conclusions based on this appearance alone. But this appearance, and his last one, I feel, really served to highlight Pineda's strengths and Pineda's flaws. There's still a good deal of work to be done, and the only question is at which level he'll do it.
- There was another thing that stood out to me about Pineda's performance tonight. By the numbers, Pineda's command was terrific. He threw 66 pitches, of which 49 - 74% - were strikes, and he only walked one guy. But I told myself going in to keep an eye on Josh Bard's catching glove, and while Pineda threw a lot of strikes, very infrequently did he hit his target. Bard usually had to move his glove, and most often he had to move it to the right.
Again, one start. I think Pineda's location is typically better than we saw today. But tonight was a great example of the difference between control and command. Control refers to the ability to throw strikes, while command refers to the ability to throw to specific spots. Pineda only had one of them.
- Pineda's English is coming along, but he'd probably be the first to tell you that it isn't yet very good. Which makes me wonder what ideas were exchanged when Pineda and Bard had a meeting at the mound. Ordinarily I think it's silly that pitchers and catchers put their gloves over their mouths when they're talking to one another but in this case it was probably the right call given the presumed simplicity of the words.
- Coming on in relief of Pineda was Tom Wilhelmsen, who I was also excited to watch on TV. And Wilhelmsen must have known that and gotten stressed out because he looked pretty bad. He bounced both of his curveballs and one of his changeups, and his fastball looked wild and flat. Casey McGehee crushed one of them into right field. I like Wilhelmsen a lot and I think he can rise in a hurry but tonight was not his night.
- In a story that may become too big of a story, Milton Bradley got ejected in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes. You'll remember that he got ejected for arguing balls and strikes last spring, too, so at least he's consistent. The pitch in question looked to be off the plate. And Bradley didn't get all super confrontational; he walked away from home plate and said some words the minor league umpire didn't like. But still. You'd really rather not see this sort of thing, even if it isn't very important.
Eric Wedge went out on the field to protest, and after he was finished he returned to the dugout and put his arm around Bradley to calm him down. I know when I think calming Mariners personnel, I think Eric Wedge.
- Remember those scouts from last March who kept saying that Bradley had a clear hole in his swing? Is that hole still there? Why isn't anybody talking about it? If it isn't there, where did it go?
- Ken Wilson - Dave Niehaus' original partner in Seattle - was in the broadcast booth with Rick Rizzs. Every single time Rickie Weeks did anything, Wilson referred to him as Richie Weeks. Which I suppose is better than referring to him as Al Harris. God dammit Hasselbeck.
- Wilson also once mistakenly referred to the Nationals as the Senators. The Washington Senators haven't existed as a franchise since 1971, and so Wilson inadvertently dated himself. A lot of older announcers slip up and make this mistake from time to time, though, and it occurred to me that it's going to be sad when we're far enough in the future that no one does that anymore. Just like it's going to be sad when we're even farther in the future and announcers from this generation mistakenly refer to the Tampa Bay Rays.
- The Brewers have a young infielder named Zelous Wheeler, but based on his minor league numbers, his real zeal is for making errors.
- The Mariners have successfully stolen 12 bases, and they have been caught trying to steal 17 bases. Ready To Play.
- I do have to make some mention of Brendan Ryan's three-run homer in the seventh. It wasn't a legendary moonshot or anything. It came on a 3-1 fastball from an opposite-handed pitcher that was literally in the middle of the strike zone. What made it notable is that it was the first at bat of Ryan's so far this spring that anybody noticed.
Tomorrow's another night game, albeit an hour earlier than this one. To offset the convenience of an earlier first pitch, we get the inconvenience of a non-televised broadcast. It'll be Felix on 710 going up against Jeff Francis and some version of the Royals that's probably going to be way more talented than the version of the Royals we see on Opening Day.