TBS has themselves a huge game to broadcast this Sunday. The Mariners will face the Tigers to close out their series in Detroit, where the scheduled starters are Chris Young and Robbie Ray.
I was fortunate enough to ask former pitcher and TBS MLB analyst Ron Darling a few questions in anticipation for the game/series, as Ron will be sitting next to Elevator Ernie Johnson covering the game for TBS.
LL: Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander both signed huge extensions with their ballclubs, and their careers have gone in opposite directions since then. Why has Felix been able to get better despite his declining velocity while Verlander has gotten less effective as his also declines?
Ron: Declining velocity is not an absolute. Mike Mussina threw 10 mph slower in his last year and he won 20 games. With all of the innings that these two great pitchers have logged, there is going to be a natural reduction in overall speed. The things that cannot be measured is that both of these young men are professors at their craft and that knowledge has been honed. Justin Verlander was dominant when it mattered most last year, just ask the Oakland A's. Is Justin having his "kind" of year? Of course not, but I believe that it has less to do with speed and more to do with the location of his pitches. There was a time when Verlander was so dominant that he could practically throw his glove on the field and the Tigers would win. Every great pitcher loses a bit of that shine at some point. Justin is going through that right now but he will find it again. Felix has not gone through his tough period, but he will. It is just the natural order of things when it comes to the science of pitching. Don't fall in love with radar gun speeds. If you really want to enjoy pitching, fixate on location and the sequence of pitches that get great hitters out. There's the secret.
LL: Speaking of declining velocity, is this just an off year for Joe Nathan, or do you see this as a sign that his career is coming to a close?
Ron: Joe Nathan is a proven warrior. He has had an off-year. Is it because he put too much pressure on finally being the go to guy for the Tigers? I don't know and maybe even Joe doesn't know. Bad years are sometimes unexplainable. They happen to the best and Joe has been one of the best in his generation of closers. When Joe turns it around and becomes a hero in the postseason, send me another note and we will discuss the entire 2014 season. Many more games to go.
LL: How do you feel the Mariners and Tigers both did in their respective additions of Austin Jackson and David Price, considering their needs and the cost to acquire?
Ron: All good trades come at a cost and all good trades should benefit both ballclubs. This was a good trade for both sides. Detroit now has the starting pitching weapons to go all the way and Seattle has a lead-off hitter and centerfielder to finally get them back to the playoffs. It was a win-win.
LL: Pitching for the A's in 1995, you were a first-hand witness to the most famous playoff run in Mariners history. What do you remember about that team that made them so difficult to defeat in the second half of the year?
Ron: The 1995 Mariners were one of the most complete teams I had ever faced, led by Ken Griffey Jr. That team save Major League Baseball in the Northwest. Not many teams can say that.
LL: There's been a lot of noise lately about the unwritten rules of baseball, specifically the Diamondbacks beaning Andrew McCutchen after what appeared to be an accidental HBP on Paul Goldschmidt that sent him to the disabled list. Where do you stand on hitting batters intentionally, and when is it acceptable, or is it ever?
Ron: MLB has tried to take the policing of beanballs out of the players hands and into the umpires hands. While I commend their intention to stop brawls on the field, the "unwritten rules" are cloudier than they've ever been and that is why incidents that happen on the field seem so muddled. You cannot break a team's best player's hand without an answer, even if it was not intentional. This is a big boys league and there is a price for poor control that leads to a broken hand. Now hitting ‘Cutch' in the backside on the first pitch would have ended the noise. The problem is that Delgado chose to miss with a pitch and then hit the reigning MVP in the back, putting him on the DL. Today's pitchers don't even know how to hit a guy correctly that this part of the game has become a mess. I have no answers. The game has changed and when we see these things it is like watching a fight break out at a country club.
Coverage begins this Sunday, August 17th at 10 a.m. PST on TBS. This is the first season of an eight-year agreement with MLB for TBS, as they will also televise one of the Wild Card games and two of the divisional series. So...see you in October, TBS.