Tonight's baseball game was all about Hisashi Iwakuma. How would he respond in his first start since hurling a no-hitter? Would he be able to go deep into the game and give some relief to an overworked bullpen? Would he avoid giving up a ton of runs/dingers to a hot-hitting Texas team? Would the 97 degree temperature negatively affect his performance? Would the bear be able or would the bear be unbearable?
The answers to these questions:
Tonight, Iwakuma was consistently able to work up in the zone (or above it!) with his fastball, down in the zone with his slider, and even further down in the dirt with his splitter.
In addition to spotting his offerings, Kuma seemed to mix pitches exceptionally well tonight. He threw his slider 27 times (the most so often this season), but also added ~equal amounts of his splitter, four-seamer, and sinker. Iwakuma threw more than 2/3 of his pitches with strikes while generating 12 whiffs and tallying six strikeouts. The only pitch that Texas was able to punish was Odor's home run, and even that pitch wasn't a terrible meatball.
On offense, the Mariners only managed six hits on the day, but lucked into some good sequencing in the first inning. Kyle hustled for a double and scored one pitch later after Cruz lasered a ball into deep left-center field (110 mph off the bat!). Smith would put the M's up 3-0 later in the inning by depositing a baseball here:
Ketel Marte smacked a couple of doubles later in the game, continuing to add to his ~hot start (he's currently hitting .286/.385/.357 on the season in 65 PA). If he continues to spray the ball all over the field, his speed gives him a real chance to help the M's offensively (both for the remainder of this season and maybe for the next several years). Hopefully he's able to continue to grow and make the appropriate adjustments as pitchers get better scouting reports on him.
And now a few bullet points:
- In the top of the fifth inning, Ketel Marte led off with a hustle double to center field. Kyle followed with a groundball out to the right side to move Marte up to third, which brought Nelson Cruz up to the plate. Cruz has been very good at hitting this year. Unfortunately, he struck out on three pitches and failed to bring the runner home. This has actually been one of the few things that Cruz hasn't been good at this season (scoring a runner from third with less than two outs). Cruz has been in this scenario 22 times so far in 2015, but he's only picked the runner up nine times (41%). For comparison, the league-average hitter scores the runner 51% of the time. That's only a difference of two or three RBI on the season, but it's somewhat surprising that Nellie has struggled with this.
- In Kuma's four starts since the trade deadline, he's averaged almost 8 IP an outing (wow!) and has a super sparkly ERA/FIP/xFIP of 1.71/2.79/2.82. This has certainly been aided by the 0.153 BABIP he's allowed over this period, but his ability to locate his pitches in his last several starts has been so, so much better than it was earlier in the season. This has allowed him to work down in the zone and avoid giving up as many dingers. His HR/9 was 2.01 (21.6% of flyballs went for HRs) in his first eight starts of the season, which was terrible. It sure is nice to have vintage Kuma back.
- For the second time in two games, Cano failed to dive for a ball that it suuuuuuure seemed like he could've knocked down. Tonight, this occurred in the bottom of the 7th with Elvis Andrus at first and Odor at the plate. Andrus took off on the pitch and Odor hit a groundball about ten feet to RF side of first base. Robbie ran to his right to field the ball but was unable to make the play: When we slow this down, it's hard not to feel a little bit frustrated at Cano's maaaaybe lack of effort. This ball bounced three times before it got to Cano (it wasn't hit terribly hard) and, without diving, he missed the ball by about two feet. I certainly don't think this would've been an easy/sure play, but this is a scenario where Robbie doesn't even need to field the ball cleanly to make a difference. Knocking the ball down keeps Andrus at second base and would've prevented him from scoring on a sac fly two pitches later. So many things have gone wrong this season, and while plays like this probably haven't been the biggest contributor to the M's failures, that doesn't mean they aren't still bothersome.
The Mariners won tonight. That is good. Enjoy it as much as you can. More baseball tomorrow afternoon.