Following yesterday's embarrassing shutout loss, Eric Wedge shredded his players like they were a stack of incriminating government documents, or delicious pork. While we don't have a transcript of what he said, we can imagine what his go-to word probably was, and the message was simple: play better baseball. Play heads-up and have a plan from the first pitch to the last.
And today, in the first game theplayed since the meeting, they won. Was Wedge actually able to light a fire under these clowns, or was it strictly coincidental?
Well obviously I can't answer that question with a high degree of certainty, but it's amazing how much better you can look as a team when your starting pitcher is good. Michael Pineda spun another six strong innings and the bullpen kept from coming unglued, giving the M's their first win since last Tuesday. They didn't do much. They only had seven hits, they didn't walk, and they didn't score a run until the sixth. It's not like Wedge's impassioned speech caused the bats to wake up. But they did just enough, the defense was solid, and while it may not have been the blowout thrashing we'd like to see one of these days, it's hard to complain. The thing about the Mariners is that you want to savor every last win that you can because you only get so many.
Wedge blew up, and the Mariners won. Were the two events related? Who cares! The Mariners won!
For a while, this Pineda Day felt a lot like most Felix Days. Pineda was going out and shutting the Jeff Francis had the M's right under his thumb. Once again, the M's weren't getting punched out - Francis finished with one strikeout in 6.1 innings - but the quality of their contact was bad, and when the Royals scratched a run across in the bottom of the fifth, that same familiar feeling swept over us the way it does whenever the opposition scores first.down, but the Mariners were also getting shut down by an inferior pitcher, as
But the M's battled(!) back to tie it in the sixth when Milton Bradley placed a groundball just perfectly down the right field line with Ichiro standing on third, and they actually took the lead in the seventh when Brendan Ryan came through with a two-run single. The single lifted the M's to 2-4 with runners in scoring position for the day, and 24-125 with runners in scoring position for the season. That is a batting average of .192.
The Mariners wouldn't play add-on, because Mariners, but Jamey Wright and Brandon League did just enough to not blow it, and as a result we've been spared the indignity of getting swept in four by the Royals. I know that the Royals have a 10-5 record, but even Gary Busey can sound lucid if you only look at a fragment of a sentence. I'm rooting for this version of the Royals to succeed simply because of the anarchy it would cause, but I believe in these Royals like I believe in the immediate threat posed by the Yellowstone caldera.*
* that means I do not believe in these Royals
To the bullet holes:
- The big story of the day, as will be the case every five days, is Michael Pineda. The fact that Pineda's raw line shows four walks and five strikeouts isn't especially impressive, but one of those walks was intentional, and he threw 62 of his 90 regular pitches for strikes. He also generated 12 whiffs on 45 swings against a lineup with six batters hitting from the left side, which is twice as many lefties as he'd seen in either of his previous two games. All things considered, Pineda did very well for himself.
What's interesting is that he did that well for himself while throwing four changeups. Just four. He leaned heavily on his slider against righties and lefties alike, and today, it worked. He threw some nasty low-inside sliders to strike out the left-handed Kila Ka'aihue in the fourth, and the only batter to tag him for an extra-base hit was the righty Jeff Francoeur, who actually drilled a good fastball off the plate. Today, Pineda succeeded as a two-pitch pitcher.
Obviously, it goes without saying that we'd all still like Pineda's change to develop, but this was just another positive sign. Last time out, Pineda showed that he can throw a dominant fastball. Today, Pineda showed that he can succeed with his fastball being less effective, because the slider makes for a useful fallback. The lefties he faced today weren't exactly a collection of superstars, but Pineda survived the platoon disadvantage, and that's awesome to see.
We can talk about Michael Pineda's service time all we want, but by now there's absolutely no questioning that he's ready to be here. He isn't just one of the top five starters in the organization. He's one of the top two.
- Perhaps the most curious thing about Pineda's outing is that he walked Jarrod Dyson twice. Dyson's been a bad hitter in the Majors, he's been a bad hitter in the minors, and he has two career professional home runs over more than 1,300 trips to the plate. If there was one guy against whom Pineda could've afforded to just throw fastballs down the pipe, it was Dyson. By throwing strikes, you force him to hit the ball hard somewhere. By nibbling, you just run the risk of walking him and putting him on base, giving him the opportunity to do pretty much the only thing he does well.
- Another curious thing about Pineda's outing is that, with two down and a man on second in the sixth, Eric Wedge had him intentionally walk the right-handed Billy Butler to face the left-handed Ka'aihue. I don't know if I agree with this decision and I'm not going to take a firm stance on it, but I'm pretty sure it was the wrong move strategically, even if it was better for Pineda's development to put him in a tougher spot. I can't remember the last time I saw a manager call for an intentional walk in this kind of situation when there wasn't a pitcher involved.
Pineda's first two intentional balls were clocked in the 60s. His last two were clocked at 82 miles per hour. Michael Pineda threw two of his intentional balls around the same velocity as Jeff Francis' average fastball.
- After Ryan delivered his astonishing and unexpected two-run single in the seventh, Dave Sims said "Michael Pineda, as you might imagine, is fired up!" The camera cut to Pineda in the dugout with a towel around his neck, looking up, then looking down, then looking up, with an expression like he was in a grocery store trying to find cumin in the spice aisle.
- What's interesting about Ryan is that, while he has yet to hit the ball with much authority, his eye has been terrific in the early going. I had the sense in my head that he's been having good, disciplined at bats, and the numbers bear that out. Shown below are Ryan's swing rates at balls outside and inside the strike zone, as measured at StatCorner:
2009: 35% out, 64% in
2010: 31% out, 64% in
2011: 18% out, 62% in
It's still very early, so we'll see how this holds up, but talk about an encouraging trend. Ryan isn't getting himself out by swinging at bad pitches, and even if the results haven't been great, the process has been much improved. What an awesome and rare thing to observe.
Miguel Olivo finally snapped an 0-for-always slump today with a groundball single to left, but he also pulled a pair of line drives that wound up in Alex Gordon's glove. So while he finished with one hit, he hit the ball well enough to get three, and I wonder what that means with regard to Olivo's confidence. Is he comforted that he hit the ball hard three times, or is he even further frustrated by the fact that only one of them landed? Are players more or less concerned with the results than we are?
- With Miguel Olivo on first with two outs and the left-handed Ryan Langerhans facing the left-handed Jeff Francis in an 0-1 count in the top of the second, Eric Wedge called for the hit-and-run. You'll never guess if it worked.
- Angie Mentink on Safeco's new dining area:
The 'Pen has everything you want to be munching on when you root for the Mariners.
- We may have seen a little something today when Jamey Wright stayed out for the eighth after throwing 12 pitches in the seventh. Ordinarily Wedge would've called on Chris Ray as his go-to penultimate fireman, but it's possible that Ray's being completely terrible prompted Wedge to try something else. So that's one situation worth monitoring. Wright nearly made a mess of things in the eighth when, pitching with a runner on second, he got a grounder to first and ran to cover but slowed down before tagging the bag. Chris Getz sprinted out of the box and actually beat Wright to the base, but the umpire called him out anyway, so all Getz got for his effort was temporary rage and high blood pressure. Getz wouldn't have been nearly so mad had he jogged down to first and gotten beat easily. What have we learned about trying our hardest?
- With one out and one on in the ninth, Jeff Francoeur hit a sharp grounder to Ryan at short that ate him up. But Ryan recovered and made a quick, strong throw to first, where Justin Smoak picked a short-hop for the second out of the inning. It sounds stupid when I write it out because it seems like Ryan fumbled a grounder and then made a bad throw, but the play was actually really impressive to the naked eye, and Smoak's pick to cap it off was none too shabby. Ryan has looked terrific in the field in the early going, and Smoak has also impressed me with his ability to receive.
- Felix still has that haircut by the way. To quote Felix on the matter:
"I like it," Felix said. "But if I lose one game with it, it's over."
Back home for a Monday night series opener against the Max Scherzer. I'm starting to feel overdue for a day off, but the Mariners might just take one anyway., with Jason Vargas and