Felix Hernandez is a treasure.
It's incredible that we get to say this on such a routine basis, especially after what he's done in his last two starts where he was something less than perfect. Two starts ago, Felix dazzled as only he can, yet over the last week, Felix has come into his starts with a less-than-optimal arsenal. I say this today after seven innings, six hits, and eight strikeouts. If you missed the game, you'd think any criticism was crazy, and maybe it is. This was Felix at less than he can be, yet he was still outstanding by anybody else's standards. It's absurd. Why am I writing this? It hasn't even gotten remotely rocky yet. Stop.
A pitching duel is probably not what M's fans were hoping for today, at least not from both sides. Felix wasn't at his absolute best -- his change wasn't as good as usual -- but his fastball location was outstanding, and his curve froze batters other than a few scattered hangers in sub-optimal locations.
When Felix wasn't at his best, he allowed baserunners and let Robinson Cano do things like this.
Robinson Cano is pretty good at Major League Baseballin' http://t.co/YLX6iIqneS— Jose Rivera (@Jose8BS) May 5, 2015
Cano plays with such ease that it can sometimes come across as lackadaisical, but it's plays like this that exude talent. Felix went through a little stretch in the 4th in which he couldn't do anything with his change but spike it. After a walk and a cheap infield hit, Felix hung a curve to Matt Joyce who roped it down the corner, but Nelson Cruz closed on it to eliminate the threat.
For six inning, Matt Shoemaker was outstanding. Early on, Shoemaker did a great job starting inside to lefties and moving pitches to the outer half for sneaky strikes. Seth Smith was the victim on multiple occasions, watching pitches move back over the inside corner and hitting the edges. He later got his revenge, but we'll get to that.
While Shoemaker was dominating, Felix was cruising until he hung an 0-2 curve to Mike Trout in the 6th that Kyle Seager couldn't quite nab. A batter later Nelson Cruz snagged a liner into right and made a spectacular spinning throw to double off Trout at first, caught in the downside of a hit and run. Logan Morrison made a hell of a scoop to double up Trout, but made an even better scoop one batter later on a snap throw from a grounder Chris Taylor to end the inning. Felix escaped unscatheed,
As previously mentioned, Matt Shoemaker was just about perfect until he hung one a split on the inner half, and Nelson Cruz crushed it to left for his 14th bomb. Shoemaker had been trying to keep the ball away from Cruz all day, but one of those aforementioned splits that Shoemaker was sneaking for strikes? Take a look.
Two batters later, Logan Morrison blasted another bomb to the opposite side, crushing one into the right-field seats, and things began to unravel. Shoemaker would later hang another one to Seth Smith, who exacted his revenge from Shoemaker's excellently placed strikes early in the game. Smith's OPS is now a robust .845, as he continues to be every bit the righty-masher the M's intended him to be.
Fernando Rodney came in to close the game out after sitting out the Houston series, and promptly allowed three straight balls that were crushed -- one to Cruz at the wall, one smashed out of the park by David Freese, and the third sliced right to Chris Taylor. After a seriously questionable missed strike three that should have ended the game, Mike Zunino gunned down Colin Cowgill trying to steal second for the third out. Rodney bad, M's don't lose. They'll take all the positive regression they can handle.
To some points that are bulleted:
- Robinson Cano is hitting line drives all over the place, but nothing fell today. He's inches away from going on a LoMo-style bounce back tear. It's coming.
- After somebody pays you a hundred million dollars, teams start to pay attention. Kyle Seager has been getting the shift treatment quite a bit this year, and today he took advantage of it. Seager did a great job going the opposite way against the shift in the 2nd, and should be encouraged to keep doing so.
- Mike Zunino got pegged in the second inning for only his second HBP of the year. Last year, Zunino had as many HBP as walks (17), so he's got some catching up to do (six walks to date, let's ignore everything else)
- Chris Taylor made his season debut tonight and got plenty of opportunities at short, making impressive routine throws that looked very un-Miller like. There's no question he's the better fielder than Miller, but he doesn't give that same tingle in the jingle that Miller does every time he waves that bat around before a potential and/or theoretical extra-base hit. I miss Brad Miller after one night. Is my love affair that obvious?
- In the third, Felix threw a 1-1 pitch to Mike Trout that clearly bounced off his bat for a foul ball. Still, Erick Aybar scuttled down to 2nd, and a resolution took a solid five minutes to conclude, Mike Scioscia was upset. Mike Scioscia is always upset. Aybar took second shortly after, and you could hear Scioscia shout "BALL DON'T LIE" from the dugout. Felix then promptly struck Mike Trout out for the second time of the night.
- Nelson Cruz is now on pace for 87 home runs. EIGHTY SEVEN. Can't stop won't stop.