Baseball, like so many things in life, can be so damned strange. Earlier this afternoon, when the lineup cards for tonight's game were first posted, many of the reactions were fairly... pessimistic.
Woof. https://t.co/wxfZKibvVL— Scott Weber (@LookoutLanding) April 27, 2015
Is Dustin Ackley dead? Was he ever truly alive?— Nathan Bishop (@NathanHBishop) April 27, 2015
Alright, now that they’re actually going to play the game, let’s see the real #Mariners lineup—not the one intended to rile everyone up.— Colin O'Keefe (@colinokeefe) April 28, 2015
As far as I'm concerned, these responses weren't particularly unjustified. On paper, against a right-handed pitcher, Lloyd's lineup looked less than ideal. Where was Dustin Ackley? Or Logan Morrison? Come to think of it, why was Justin Ruggiano, who Lloyd seems to (~inexplicably) enjoy relegating to the end of the bench, batting leadoff? And why the hell would you let Willie Bloomquist out of his cave/turkey blind in the woods/Dracula-style casket? A few folks even grumbled about how they'd sooner not watch tonight's game; they were actually rootin' for a rainout! The gray clouds hanging over Arlington appeared to be mirrored by voluminous clouds of discontent hanging over much of the Mariners fanbase...
But then the game started and things quickly started to brighten. Patient at bats by the Mariners and defensive miscues by the Rangers led to an early lead, and the M's were able to put together a classic 2014-style performance. They scraped a few runs across early and were able to keep the Rangers offense in check for most of the evening. This was a good win.
Taijuan Walker pitched seven strong innings tonight and looked like the version of himself that we always hope to see. He was throwing his fastball hard (averaging ~95 mph and touching 97 mph once) and mixed in his splitter and his cutter effectively. He didn't seem to have too much of a feel for his curveball (he only threw it four times), but that didn't matter; the Rangers struggled to punish most of his offerings and looked off-balance all night. Texas managed just seven baserunners and a single unearned run during Tai's seven frames.
It should be noted that, despite only walking a single batter, Walker didn't really seem to have the best command tonight (granted, compared to his early season "control", he looked pretty damned good). If you go back and look at Zunino's glove placement throughout the night, Tai appeared to be missing his spots by a pretty wide margin for much of the contest. However, as Colin pointed out, when your stuff is filthy, pin-point accuracy isn't always necessary to retire/embarrass your opponent.
When your command is a little off but your stuff’s just too good. pic.twitter.com/S15iDrO62X— Colin O'Keefe (@colinokeefe) April 28, 2015
Tonight's game will hopefully go a long way towards boosting Walker's confidence and allow him to continue to successfully execute his pitches. We know that his pitching arsenal is superb, but oftentimes this season he's looked lost/flustered; maybe a good start like tonight's is all that it'll take to get him going. With Iwakuma going down for an unknown amount of time and Paxton looking shaky, Walker's continued success is likely necessary if the M's want a realistic chance at taking the AL West. Make it so, Tai. Make it so.
- Cruz's RBI single in the top of the first helped ameliorate a rough stretch for Mariners hitters with RISP. They had been 1 for 25 since Wednesday (.040 over their last four games!). Seth Smith also came through with a two-out knock in the fifth, scoring Ruggiano from second to put Seattle up 3-1. (The M's were 2-7 with RISP position tonight; not world-beating, but certainly better than what they've been up to recently.)
- Taijuan Walker induced seven swinging strikes tonight (out of 92 total pitches). That's not really a ton of whiffs, but five of those swings and misses resulted in a swinging strike out; Walker seems to know how to dig deep and come up with a put-away pitch. He can be downright dominant when he's feelin' it.
- As noted by Aaron Goldsmith during tonight's broadcast, Mike Zunino came into tonight hitting 1-22 after falling behind in the count (with a single and 14 strike outs). He's also found himself in an 0-2 count in almost a third of his plate appearances (19/59). That is so gross. I don't know what exactly is wrong with Mike (probably several things), but it makes me sad. He did do a pretty good job framing some lefty strikes tonight, if that makes anyone feel any better...
- Adrian Beltre engaged in a sneaky, tricky, wiley, I've-been-playing-baseball-for-FOREVER type of play this evening. Beltre was standing on first with one out when Moreland hit a fairly slow groundball towards the right side of the infield. Instead of simply running to second base, Beltre slowed down a hair, waved his arms wildly, and just happened to get hit by the ball. (My favorite part about this is Cano ~gesturing his glove at Beltre as he jogs past, causing Beltre to break out into an even bigger grin.) This play helped the Rangers score their only run of the evening; as opposed to potentially ending the inning on a double play, Fielder scored three pitches later after an errant throw by Miller to first base.
The M's look to start a win streak tomorrow night as J.A. Happ faces off against Ross Detwiler. Hopefully their good pitching carries over and they can creep back above .500 by the end of this road trip.