Last night, I went down to Tacoma to take a look at Roenis Elias. The Cuban southpaw was the odd man out in the spring scramble for the final rotation spot, and he's started slowly with the Rainiers. He didn't get out of the sixth in either of his first two starts, struggling to hit spots and make pitches with runners on base.
It was more of the same for Elias on Monday night. He worked five innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out four. He started out strong, with two strikeouts in the first three innings, but lost his feel as the game progressed, let down by poor command and an ineffective curve ball.
Let's start with the positives. Velocity wise, everything was normal. Elias sat 89-91 with the fastball, touching a little higher on occasion, and he showed good feel for the pitch throughout the early innings. His changeup was a dandy: it featured the fading action we all know and love and it had El Paso's hitters on their front feet. In total, the Chihuahuas swung and missed at the change seven times and it was clear that they had problems identifying the pitch out of his hand. It's also worth mentioning that the defense in Triple-A isn't up to par with what he had behind him last season: Ramiro Pena's two out RBI double is a flyout with just about any major league center fielder behind him.
Two negatives marred Elias's night though. First, he struggled with his command as the game progressed, particularly when working out of the stretch. Too many times, he left the ball over the middle of the plate, and it wasn't just El Paso's heavy hitters doing the damage: Mike McCoy and and Cody Decker homered and doubled respectively off of poorly located fastballs, and the lefty was fortunate that a couple of other misplaced heaters went unpunished.
Troublingly, Elias also struggled to make quality pitches with his curveball. Possibly his best pitch when it's on, the southpaw has had trouble harnessing the curve over his first three outings, and he threw only a couple of decent ones last night. In the first, he fanned Brett Wallace with a perfectly placed front door curve that just nicked the inside corner. He didn't have much success with it after the first though, routinely spiking the pitch and often leaving it off the plate when he tried to throw it for a back door strike. When he did hit the zone, the Chihuahuas took advantage. Tommy Medica roped a hard liner to second off an elevated curve and Rymer Liriano pasted a hanger for a single to left. The curve just wasn't in his toolbox yesterday.
If you're at all worried about Elias, I hope that your apprehension meter is tilted firmly towards 'concerned' rather than 'panicked.' It's only three games, and he's hardly the only pitcher in the organization off to a difficult start. The twenty-six year old is still building up arm strength -- not unusual for pitchers in April -- and he hasn't been getting five days off between starts, as he did before four of his first six outings in 2014. I'll be paying attention to his command and his curve over his next several starts, but it's not time to worry about him just yet.
A few other quick notes:
- Franklin Gutierrez had another productive day. He ripped a line drive single, walked twice, and most importantly, showed better foot speed than I'd seen from him this season. I may have jumped the gun when I said his legs were shot yesterday: he was able to air it out while scoring from second on a single, and he actually looked downright spry. He's not as quick as he was a few years ago, but who is?
- Mayckol Guiape nailed down the save by working two scoreless innings with three strikeouts and no walks. A four year veteran of the Mariners VSL team -- which was also Yoervis Medina's first minor league stop -- Guiape has slowly climbed through the system since 2007. He sits on the cusp of the show, and while he doesn't have a high ceiling, he throws a ton of strikes (he walked just nine hitters in fifty-six innings last year). He works with a low 90's fastball and an inconsistent slider that flashes plus, but it all plays up because of the strikes. That should be attractive to this team. I mean, look at the Mariners bullpen right now. Tell me that strikes sound bad.
- Watch Jesus Montero pound a baseball: