What? I thought you wanted to see a dominant pitching performance from one of the best arms in the 2010 draft. You should be happy -- or at least more specific in your hopes and dreams.
My sense from looking at Twitter, the game thread, and recent comments on this site is that there's a lot of 'sky is falling' sentiment swirling around right now. Don't submit to that. This is not 2008 or 2010. This is a good baseball team and there's no reason to think differently about it now than you did a week ago. Even if your expectations were irrational -- 100 wins, 100 losses, whatever -- there's nothing about four baseball games in April that should shift how you feel about the Mariners.
Need proof? The Rockies are 4-0 right now and you can bet they'll still be terrible this season. In 2011, a bad Baltimore team started 6-1; nine days later they were 6-9. The 1998 Yankees started 0-3 and then 1-4; from there they went 113-44. The 2001 Mariners went 1-3 over a brief stretch in early May. The 2000 Mariners club, not a bad team in its own right, went 3-15 in the middle part of August and still wound up with 91 wins. Those brief stretches weren't any more significant than Seattle's 1-3 start is this year. Truth be told, I think most people get this, but recency bias is a bitch and I want to head off the fatalism before it starts. Good teams lose baseball games. Good teams drop seven out of ten once or twice over the course of a season. Don't panic.
Obviously though, this was a stinker from the first inning. After an encouraging spring, Taijuan Walker never got going tonight. He was up in the strike zone too often and he threw a lot of uncompetitive pitches -- pitches so far out of the zone that even Carlos Peguero could restrain himself -- when searching for a whiff. That extends counts which continues at bats and eventually snowballs into crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
There were other problems. Walker's
cutter slider was inconsistent, his changeup wasn't dropping, and his command was worse than what we saw from him in spring training. It's natural for command to drift from start to start -- especially in a young pitcher -- so this isn't a sign that he's unready for the majors. He'll have days like this where he struggles to locate and even though most teams won't take advantage like Oakland did tonight, he'll have to labor through some tough outings. It's just a part of the development process. Lengthening his stride may help alleviate some of the inconsistency -- a choppy stride disrupts timing and can shift a pitcher's release point up, among other problems -- but poor command will probably be a part of his game this season.
If you're looking for a silver lining, Oakland is a tough matchup for a guy like Walker. On his day, Taijuan's stuff is excellent: he'll be one of the hardest throwing starters in the league this year and his cutter and changeup will generate plenty of swings and misses over the course of the season. But Oakland is built to take advantage of pitchers who can't hit their spots consistently. The A's order isn't particularly intimidating at a glance but they're loaded with experienced, high walk rate-good OBP players who work counts and drive mistakes. There's no place to hide against the A's if you can't hit a corner and there's just enough enough thump in the lineup to punish something mis-located and elevated. Living up in the strike zone is a dangerous game and Walker got burned:
The Mariners weren't much more impressive on the other side of the ball. Austin Jackson had two hits, Robinson Cano tagged a few balls, and Nelson Cruz's fifth inning fly out would have been a homer in Baltimore but there wasn't much doing apart from that. In a sense, it's nice that the M's bats at least had the courtesy to lay an egg on a night they wouldn't have won anyway. On the other hand, they mustered just two hits against Drew Pomeranz, and all he did was pound the zone with his fastball and a mediocre curve. It's a recipe that's worked well for him in his career against he Mariners: the Ole Miss alum has allowed just one run in eighteen innings against Seattle.
The M's nearly got in the board in the eighth, but Eric Sogard made a tremendous play on Logan Morrison's grounder up the middle:
They couldn't score with runners on the corners so I started putting the chart together. Brief bullets section:
- We saw why Lloyd McClendon has been reluctant to use Rickie Weeks in the outfield. More than once, he looked awkward tracking a fly ball, and he got a particularly poor jump on Eric Sogard's seventh inning line out. He also demonstrated his inexperience on Ben Zobrist's double in the fifth: he fielded the ball on the run and hesitated while determining whether to throw to second or to third. The brief delay cost him, as both runners advanced. It's not his fault, but Weeks looks uncomfortable and out of place in the outfield right now. I've joked a little about Nelson Cruz's defense, but he's probably the better option in the field at this point.
- Mike Zunino had another tough night. He swung through four pitches, one of which was way out of the strike zone, while two others were right down the middle. Zunino's ceiling is probably as a .250 hitter with pop, and he's got a long way to go to reach it.
- It's 2015 and Willie Bloomquist played a game at shortstop. I'm more impressed with his longevity and durability than anything else, but nothing about his range in the limited time I've seen him at the position this year suggests he ought to be playing there when Chris Taylor comes back.