Spring Training used to be a slog, and this year it feels like it’s going by all too quickly. Instead of watching a team of all veterans perform their mandatory acclimation regimen and holding our collective breath every time Nelson Cruz ran the bases, followed by a few plucky youngsters trying to make an impression, innings 4-9 are now the must-see innings for Spring Training. Never was that more clearly on display than today, where the veteran squad ground through some small-ball runs, but the real show was in the final few innings.
Félix’s second spring start unpleasantly mirrored his first, with one important difference: after a lockdown first inning in which he threw 8 of his 9 pitches for strikes, things fell apart some in the second when he needed 26 pitches, hit a batter, walked a batter, and gave up three hits, although none were hit particularly hard. He loaded the bases twice but was somehow able to escape with just two runs. The difference is this time Félix was able to recover, striking out the last two batters to end the inning, and he rebounded nicely with a 1-2-3 inning in the third, making it through three innings under his 50-pitch threshold. The curveball was Félix’s best pitch, showing good bite, which interestingly enough...
Felix called his outing decent. Went back to the wind up with a little less turn. Focusing on staying straight to the plate.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) February 28, 2019
On the 1st pitch curves,
"It is supposed to be with the numbers my best pitch. I'm listening, seeing if it works. But I have to throw my slider too."
Per Servais after the game: “Félix has been exposed to our analytics.” I guess you can lead a pitcher to Rapsodo?
Félix was followed by Roenis Elías, who struggled to find his beloved curveball in his two innings of work. In fact, his command was shaky overall as he fell behind batters. He gave up a laser shot homer to Tim Anderson but didn’t take any other hit points, and his fastball showed good velocity, touching 95, even if it didn’t always go where he wanted.
Giving some relief to the worries over the catching situation, Omar Narváez had a strong game on both sides of the ball: he framed a few of Félix’s pitches very nicely, had a good block on a changeup in the dirt, and showed off a strong throwing arm on a stolen base (Adam Engel got a great jump and was safe, but Narváez made it a lot closer than it should have been). He also had a solid line drive single and then advanced to third when the left fielder dropped a lazy fly ball off the bat of Jake Fraley, running hard the whole time.
The Mariners got their four runs in meh-ish fashion, with two RBI groundouts and the big hit being a two-run RBI bloop single from Dustin Ackley. They had a chance to blow the game open in the fifth, with the bases loaded (a nice double to the gap by Dee followed by two walks) and no outs, but Encarnación just missed a fastball down the middle, and the Mariners wound up scoring just one run.
And then the fun started.
Justin Dunn looked sharp as knives with two quick innings. He threw a ton of strikes, and even the not-strikes were largely borderline pitches. His fastball sat 93-95 and he collected this strikeout:
Dunn also got help from his defense, with a nice diving play by 2B Tim Lopes and this strong play on a bunt by catching prospect Cal Raleigh:
Then, the kids got the bats going. Dylan Moore and Jake Fraley led off the sixth with singles, and then Shed Long drove in Moore with a sharply rapped single. I don’t care if Shed Long doesn’t like water, as long as he keeps hitting like this.
Top prospect Julio Rodriguez finally made his Spring Training debut and recorded a hit in his first at-bat, slapping a hard single off a changeup that deflected off the shortstop’s glove and making the entire LL staff collectively bemoan the lack of Statcast. Then Kyle Lewis and Braden Bishop decided to shine up their prospect stars:
There are so many great parts to this. Julio getting a hit in his first at-bat off an off-speed pitch against a pitcher six years his senior who posted a 3.56 FIP at Triple-A this season. Kyle Lewis continuing to wage war against baseballs and the concept of human fragility. Braden Bishop, who’s had a slow start to his spring, showing he’s recovered from his injury and ready to pick up where he left off last season. There hasn’t been a ton to get excited about in the minors in Seattle over the past few years, and today was a condensed advertisement for why Mariner fans should care about the minors.
David McKay, whose name I forever type as Dylan McKay, put a bow on the whole thing with an impressive 1-2-3 inning to shut things down. Tomorrow, Justus Sheffield will do his part to continue the youth movement. Be there or be square.