Tonight the Seattle Mariners played the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park. 800 miles to the south, the Modesto Nuts, Seattle’s High-A affiliate, took on the Stockton Ports, Oakland’s High-A affiliate. One of these games went better for the Mariners for the other, but both offered promising glimpses of the future.
In Seattle, the Mariners had a chance to win this game thanks to one of Yusei Kikuchi’s best starts as a Mariner. For the first time since early May, Kikuchi completed seven innings of work, surrendering just two earned runs on four hits, striking out five and walking just one. It was his first time working with catcher Tom Murphy, and there was an interesting variation on Kikuchi’s pitch selection tonight:
Compare this to the last time Kikuchi faced the A’s, over a month ago, on May 25th:
Tonight Kikuchi inverted the amount he throws the changeup and curveball, to much better results. The A’s punished his curve the last time out—to the tune of an average exit velocity on it of over 100—and Kikuchi didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, surrendering four runs on 10 hits while only striking out one. He was much better tonight, and was able to work with the team’s best defensive catcher in Tom Murphy, and the results were encouraging. After a rough stretch for Kikuchi in June, it would be great to see him get back on track.
There’s also this tidbit of interest that might have contributed to the strong start:
Kikuchi tends to throw a lot between starts. The Mariners have asked him to change that routine. Servais made sure he took a couple days off earlier in the week. Said the life on Kikuchi's pitches during his bullpen session was noticable. Looks like it translated to tonight.— Jen Mueller (@JenTalksSports) July 6, 2019
Speaking of Tom Murphy, he went long tonight, breaking a 1-1 tie in the 5th.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the Mariners were able to do offensively, mustering just five hits off Brett Anderson, a beer league softball player for the Local 89 who got bitten by a radioactive baseball, and striking out a combined eight times. Not great, fellas! The best moment of the night—other than Kikuchi pumping his fist after striking out Chad Pinder to end seven strong innings of work—was a defensive one, when J.P. Crawford made this sterling defensive play:
I broke this play down in a Twitter thread using Perry Hill’s “Six F’s of Fielding” if you’re interested in a line-by-line reading, but suffice it to say: the improvement in Crawford’s defense has been one of the bright spots in this season.
Meanwhile, down in the California League, the baby Mariners were giving the baby Athletics all they could handle. Both squads are prospect-packed. The Modesto Nuts roster features four of Seattle’s Top-30 prospects in OF Jarred Kelenic, RHP Logan Gilbert, C Cal Raleigh, and INF Joe Rizzo. The Ports roster features four Oakland Top-10 prospects: OFs Lazaro Armenteros and Jameson Hannah; INFs Nick Allen and Jeremy Eierman, plus a Top-30 infielder in U of A product Alfonso Rivas. Tonight, RHP Penn Murfee—a 2018 draftee who has recently been converted from a reliever to a starting role—held the powerful Ports lineup scoreless over six innings, recording a career-high nine strikeouts and walking no one. Murfee is the quintessential sleeper prospect; over 50 innings at Modesto, he’s striking out almost 33% of batters and walking just 5%, with a puny 5% HR/FB rate—all impressive numbers in the famously hitter-friendly league. His team offered him plenty of run support, highlighted by Jarred Kelenic going 2-for-3 with a walk, a home run, and an RBI double before he had to rush off to catch a red-eye flight to Cleveland to participate in the Futures Game. (Read a full recap of Modesto’s game in tomorrow’s Midshipman’s Log.) It may have been a tough night at the major-league level, but the kids are all right.