Well, the Mariners are probably taking one to the truck, to the airport right now after being mercilessly and repeatedly punched in the face by the Toronto Blue Jays this afternoon. Now the good news is that they still won the series, and occasionally looked somewhat competent in the process. I know, that's probably the last thing you would use to describe this here baseball game we just had, but the truth of the matter is that the Mariners are better than how they looked this morning, and even though they are back to three games below .500, they can easily cross the line by the end of next week. Or sink like a millstone, you know, take your pick.
Taijuan continued his new refusal to throw anything outside of the fastball family this afternoon, but the truth of the matter is that wasn't solely responsible for his loss on the day. He had a few walks but lasted through four innings before giving up his first hit to the Jays, and spent most of his time trying to jam up hitters in on the hands with an eight-mph variance in his offerings. Here's a solid strikeout by Josh Donaldson in the third that shows you kind of what he was doing:
Donaldson finished his day with a flyout and a golden sombrero, and this attack by Taijuan is exactly the kind of thing you want to see. That's because he's hitting .444 against lefties this season, but has 29 of his 34 strikeouts against right handers, who eat away at the inner edge of the plate to get him and his brohawk to swing and miss over 23% of the pitches around where pitch #4 landed. If only he had dove two seconds earlier.
Now this is all well and good when it works out against aggressive hitters like Donaldson, who is swinging at his highest rate since 2012 after coming over to the AL East and hitting in a giant metal box with a bouncy floor and a controlled climate. But one man's scouting report does not fit all, and the simple fact that Taijuan threw one breaking pitch throughout the first five innings, and only two in the sixth, should tell you all you need to know about what's going on with the young righty:
I don't know if it's a confidence thing or what, and it should be noted that he has always relied primarily on his fastballs, but something is happening this season that has caused him to drop his curve to a career-low rate. After returning from injury last June, Walker immediately jumped into the mix by throwing his curve for 20% of his pitches and his fourseamer only a little more than half of the time. This month? That four-seamer sees a whopping 71% of all his action, and his curve has dropped down to 5.8%. And it appears to be a decision he's made entirely on his own, subjectively.
I mean, it's pretty telling that today Walker tried his curveball right away in the first, and then promptly abandoned it. That's probably because it landed somewhere near here:
After this, Taijuan remained super-glued to his four-seamer, occasionally mixing in his cutter and his new changeup that Brooks and PITCHf/x categorize as a splitter. Because he's always been a firearm, he should--in theory--be able to rely on a near ten-mph variance between his change, cutter (which moves like a slider), and his fastball to be effective. When his command was on, it worked in the minors, it worked like mad this spring, and it should have you thinking of Felix Hernandez and a similar approach which has worked, eh, decently.
But so far this season it hasn't been enough. That's because you know, no matter how devastating his changeup is, Felix also has an arsenal of deception and confusion and bendy things that he can use when he turns a lineup over three times. When Taijuan is already too scared to throw his curveball by the third batter of the game? Well that turnover isn't exactly going to engender anyone a cheering section. And that's exactly what happened today.
Now it should really be noted that Walker showed some resilience this afternoon jamming up righties and generating some harmless pop-ups when his pitches were landing where they were supposed to. This looked nothing like his disastrous start in Baltimore last week. But if you're throwing nothing but fastballs to a lineup of Major League hitters three times over, and your name isnt Bartolo Colon, they are going to start hitting the ball very hard and very far. Because without the right tools, even the best command is eventually going to stab you in the back:
Look at pitch number six. That's one in on the hands that could have broken a bat. Now look where it landed:
So the Jays got four in the fifth and then four more in the seventh after Danny Farquhar, another passenger in the Possibly Broken car of our train of ineptitude, was joined by Joe Beimel with a bunch of runs and an overturned challenge and tears and hate and Molson, because Canada does a lot of things so well that you kind of have to give them shit for the two they don't. In the end it just kind of turned into a wash and you have to be feeling a little better knowing they took the series win, and that everybody loses at least sixty.
The M's got on the board twice today, after Seager hit a dinger with nobody on base, because of course there would be no one on when it happened. They got one back in the seventh to bring it within two runs, but that whole thing was blown wide open by the pen. Robinson Cano grounded into two double plays, and continues to be only a shell of himself for what could either be an extended slump or the worst season of his career. There were a bunch of walks, and then a bunch of stranded runners. And although Chris Taylor checked in with a few bloop hits, the rest of the team went 0-5 with runners in scoring position. Drink up, folks.
The good news is they get to try and reset all of this with their three best pitchers starting tomorrow, and word is that Austin Jackson could join the team by the first game at the earliest. This may not have been the prettiest loss but it wasn't the worst, either, and there is still a long ways to go. Save your liver for at least another week, or two, and we'll hopefully see each other on the other side.