It took just three pitches for the Mariners to grab the lead in today's game. Austin Jackson swung aggressively at the first offering, shooting a double into center field. He then scooted home after Seth Smith went the other way, driving a single to left field on a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner. Everything was wonderful and it seemed like the Mariners might be on their way to another Spring Training blow-out victory. Unfortunately, that was not the case; J.A. Happ surrendered the lead in the bottom of the second inning and the Mariners were never able to recover.
Despite a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning, J.A. Happ struggled in today's game. He reached his 80-pitch limit (throwing just 45 strikes), but only managed to make it through 3.2 innings. During his outing, he gave up eight hits (four for extra bases), three walks, and six runs (five earned). The Mariners defense was a little sloppy behind him, with miscues from Dustin Ackley and Logan Morrison, but Happ didn't seem to be very sharp. Relying on just PITCHf/x, it's a little hard to know exactly what went wrong for Happ today. He didn't seem to be missing up in the zone very often, but several of his pitches probably caught more of the plate than he intended... especially when he was facing Matt Kemp and Justin Upton.
As Happ floundered through the second and third innings, it seemed like there were quite a few people across the internets expressing their concern/dismay about Happ being a lock for the Mariners rotation. I understand this frustration somewhat; Happ is nowhere near as fun/sexy/exciting as Roenis Elias or Taijuan Walker, and one of those two guys will almost certainly start the season in AAA. But that's okay! J.A. Happ is going to be in the Mariners rotation at the beginning of the season because he has a track record of being pretty okay pitcher and his stuff should play well at Safeco Field. Elias and Walker both have options remaining and whoever doesn't win a spot in the rotation can be brought up whenever they're needed. The Mariners don't have a ton of pitching depth so this is a good thing. Also, it's still Spring Training! This was just one start! Happ should have the opportunity to get ~two more appearances to figure out whatever was bothering him today.
- In 2014, J.A. Happ's average fastball was 93 mph, which represented a jump of more than 1.5 mph compared to any of his previous seasons. So far in Spring Training, his fastball has been between 91 and 92 mph (he hit 93 mph just once with his fastball today). It'll be interesting to see how his velocity changes as the season progresses.
- Last season, the Mariners number one and number two batters combined to hit 0.235/0.274/0.333. Blergh. That wouldn't be good for the last two hitters in the lineup, let alone the first two! Today, Austin Jackson and Seth Smith combined to go 4 for 6 with a double, a home run, three runs scored, and four RBIs. They also stole two bases. Wow! If Smith and Jackson can get on base at a decent clip, Cano and/or Cruz and/or Seager are going to have a chance to knock in a ton of runs in 2015.