Oakland won Thursday's sparsely attended matinee 8-2, but the big story was Brandon Maurer. The 22-year-old right-hander made his major league debut against the A's, and at first glance, his outing looks like a disappointment. In six innings, Maurer surrendered eight hits and six runs, allowing two dingers while striking out only one batter.
I actually didn't think he looked too bad. Yes, I would have liked to see a couple more strikeouts and a few less runs, but his talent was evident. As advertised, he worked with a low to mid 90's fastball, a plus slider, a curve, and a change up. I was particularly impressed with his slider. He can throw it for strikes and he can bury it out of the zone, both of which he did at different times throughout the afternoon. The slider he used to strike out Yoenis Cespedes was his best pitch of the game. He started started it on the edge of the strike zone, and used the Cuban's aggressiveness to entice him to chase what should have been ball three.
To be sure, there are pitches Maurer would love to have back. Josh Reddick took him deep on a two-strike fastball right down the middle and Cespedes later did the same on a slider that caught far too much plate. I was also surprised that Eric Wedge stuck with him after he started struggling in the sixth inning. That last frame kind of got away from the rookie, and with someone already warming up, I was surprised Maurer hung around as long as he did.
Ultimately, two things stood out to me. First, I would have liked to see him trust his fastball more. He threw only 32 heaters out of 74 pitches, a strikingly low number for a guy capable of hitting 95 MPH. Reddick and Cespedes both tagged offspeed pitches in the sixth, and I wonder if Oakland started sitting on those offerings their third time through the order.
Second, Maurer's command wasn't there today. He stayed around the zone, which is a positive, but he didn't throw enough quality strikes, especially against the meat of the order. To me, this is the kind of thing that will improve with time. There's a difference between knowing not to throw a slider in the zone to Cespedes and truly grokking all of what that entails. Still, there were a number of positives for Maurer, and I'm looking forward to watching him build off of his first start next Tuesday.
Let's get to some bullet points.
- Michael Morse hit his fourth dinger in as many games, smacking a line drove over the left field wall in the sixth inning. I know people loved John Jaso and I understand why acquiring Morse at the catcher's expense was a risky venture. I'm still excited about Seabeast. Morse hits the snot out of the ball and he doesn't look like an unmitigated disaster in the corner outfield. I'm also taking the "over" on his season projections, particularly ZiPS's pessimistic .253/.308/.415 slash line.
- Raul Ibanez started and hit third today, further lending credence to the notion that Wedge intends to use the 40-year-old somewhat regularly against right-handed pitchers. Ever since Ken Griffey Jr. posted a miserable 32 wRC+ as a 40-year-old in 2010, I've always been leery of an aging player's impending collapse. It's unfair to suggest that Ibanez will pull a Griffey -- he was solid, if unspectacular just last season -- but it's something I'm going to worry about until I see him rip a couple of line drives. So far he's 0-8 with nary a hard hit ball in sight. Meanwhile, a perfectly good former Mariner outfielder waits to learn where he'll play baseball this summer.
- Kelly Shoppach received his first start of the year and he took advantage of the occasion, going 2-3 with a walk. At USS Mariner, Dave suggested that Shoppach could win the club's starting catcher job as early as this May. I'm not sure I'd go that far; I don't really see the M's demoting Montero, particularly if such a transaction doesn't involve him trading starting spots with Mike Zunino. If nothing else, though, the M's at least have a better hitting backup catcher than in years past.
- It was a tough series for Dustin Ackley, who went 1-13 in Oakland. Still, there were good signs. He stung several balls, including two today that could very easily have fallen in for hits. Better yet, he only struck out once. The high strikeout totals he posted in his first two seasons were odd for a player with his hit tool, and it's encouraging to see him making hard and consistent contact.
- Lucas Luetge pitched the eighth inning, becoming the penultimate Mariner to appear in a game this season (Blake Beavan will go tomorrow). I mentioned this on Twitter earlier, but I wouldn't be surprised if Luetge heads to Tacoma soon. Wedge didn't use him in any of the close games this series, and with Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush already entrenched in the bullpen, Luetge's primary function is superfluous.
Moreover, the former rule-5 pick has really struggled since his hot start to the 2012 season. He carried a 0.00 ERA into mid-June last year, but he did so while predominantly facing lefties in short, sporadic stints (he faced just one batter in 10 of his first 25 appearances). Starting June 19th, the wheels fell off for Luetge: batters his .298/.398/.447 from that point, tagging the rookie southpaw for a 6.75 ERA over the rest of the season. On the whole, he was more good than great against lefties, while righties really hit him hard.
After watching him struggle against righties again today, I wonder how long the M's will want to carry him on the big club. I get why the organization took a flier on him as a rule-5 pick, and I didn't think there was anything wrong with hiding him on the major league roster last season. At this point though, the M's don't need to protect him, and I have to imagine that he's the first guy to head to Tacoma when a better option becomes available.
- Speaking of Tacoma, the Rainiers (and all other full season affiliates) begin or began play today. The always excellent Mike Curto will have the call for the Rainiers at 7:15 on 850 AM. Danny Hultzen gets the ball for Tacoma.