Major league managers don't have a particularly long shelf life. Most skippers don't hang around with a club for more than a few seasons due to some combination of too many losses, front office shakeups, and a general abhorrence towards stasis when things go poorly. With that in mind, I posit that Eric Wedge will not be around Seattle for much longer. I'm neither a Wedge apologist nor assailant, but the team's recent performance and, in all likelihood, impending regime change, signals that he won't work in Seattle for too much longer. When he leaves, his defining legacy won't be anything about bunts, benchings, or his strange affinity for Carlos Peguero. It will be how he let Hisashi Iwakuma rot in the bullpen for three months at the start of 2012.
After a lousy spring training, Wedge famously gave Iwakuma the Jeff Gray treatment. The Japanese right-hander was the last player on an Opening Day roster in all of baseball to get in a game last year, and he didn't make his fifth appearance of the season until May 30th. He didn't earn a start until July -- if the Mariners had any minor league pitching depth, it's fair to question whether Iwakuma would have ever started at all -- where he immediately flourished.
As a reliever, working sporadically and in an unfamiliar role, Iwakuma posted middling numbers: he allowed 1.78 home runs per nine innings and posted a pitcher slash -- ERA/FIP/xFIP -- of 4.75/5.73/4.23. In the rotation, those numbers improved to 2.65/3.91/3.61. Combined with a strong start to this season, Iwakuma has the best ERA in baseball since the 2012 all-star break.
Facing a strong, if struggling, Los Angeles lineup today, Iwakuma turned in another stellar outing. He struck out eight without walking a batter, allowing just two hits and one unearned run in six innings of action. Best of all, it was an efficient performance. Iwakuma's workload is going to remain low as long as he's having blister problems, and it was nice to see him get through six frames with only 92 pitches.
More impressive than the raw numbers though was the way Iwakuma pitched. His command was spectacular. He consistently threw everything, breaking pitches included, right where he wanted them. He painted the black with his slider. He expanded the zone against Josh Hamilton. He tied up Mike Trout with off-speed pitches away and fastballs in on his hands. All told, Iwakuma induced 17 whiffs and rarely permitted hard contact.
Obviously, Iwakuma won't maintain his sub-2 ERA all season. Hitters are only hitting .178 when they make contact right now, and I'd expect both his walk and home run ratios to tick up as well. Even with regression though, Iwakuma is a bargain. He's under contract for only $6.5 million per year through next season, and barring injury, I'd expect the M's to trigger his $7 million option in 2015 as well. He's a steal at those rates, and it's absolutely baffling that he couldn't get a start until mid-summer last year.
After Iwakuma departed, Carter Capps threw two dominant innings. Other than a hustle double allowed to Peter Bourjos, Capps retired every other man he faced, striking out three. Notably, he was back to throwing 97-98 after a few outings with slightly diminished velocity.
The Mariners scored both runs on solo homers. Jason Bay hit his second of the year 7th, and Michael Morse hit the eventual game winner in the 8th. It was Morse's first homer since April 9th, a span covering 52 at-bats. Hopefully this is a sign that his pinkie is, if not healed, at least better.
Tom Wilhelmsen locked down the ninth for his second save in as many days. The win gave the Mariners their first series victory of the season, and vaulted them past the Angels into third place in the American League West.
Short bullets section:
- The Angels lone run scored on an error by Robert Andino. With Andrew Romine on second, Trout hit a slow grounder to Andino's right. Romine broke for third, and while Andino considered whether to try and nip the runner or not, he appeared to take his eye off the ball, allowing it to roll under his glove. I don't want to be too critical of Andino -- who made a nifty play ranging to the second base side of the bag for a slow roller later in the game -- but the play underscored the importance of shortstop defense. Get Brendan Ryan back in the lineup. He's the better defender, and early season slump notwithstanding, the superior bat as well. This is dumb.
- Fun with early season numbers: with today's homer, Bay is now hitting .229/.339/.378 on the year, good for a 109 wRC+. Paired with a lefty who can handle righties, Bay could make up a decent platoon in a corner outfield spot. A contending team could have use for a guy like that. Bay won't fetch much on his own, but paired with another player in a prospective deal (perhaps Kendrys Morales?) the Gonzaga product could help augment a return package.
- I'm glad I don't have to analyze Jason Vargas starts anymore. I don't mind watching him pitch, and I liked having him on the team, but there's only so much you can say about his approach on the mound. Today's outing was so Vargas: eight innings, two homers allowed, and no run support. Welcome back.
- Vargas after allowing the second of those homers:
- 2012 Angels through 24 games: 9-15.
2012 Angels the rest of the way: 80-59.
2013 Angels through 24 games: 9-15.
2013 Angels the rest of the way: undetermined, but there's no reason to count them out of the playoff race yet. Yes, that team has problems. Albert Pujols can't move. Josh Hamilton's approach has been exploited for five months, without any sign of an adjustment on the horizon. Their rotation, particularly without Jered Weaver, is in shambles.
There's still enough talent there for them to turn their season around. It's way too early to write them off.
- On a similar theme, if the Mariners had just gone 4-2 instead of 2-4 against the Astros, they'd be 13-14 and a game and a half behind Oakland for second in the division. That's not indicative of anything other than, man, people would probably feel a lot better right now if that had happened.