The Mariners couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop to tonight’s edition of Steelheads vs. Pilots. A 75 degree Seattle evening without a cloud in the sky felt like the city teasing Seattle’s players. “You know it’s 87 with 83% humidity in Houston, right? Just stay, stay a little longer...”
Alas, tomorrow’s matchup will be the final intrasquad tilt for the M’s full taxi squad, before the big league club heads southeast and the remnants make their way to Cheney Stadium. Tonight, the M’s tipped the scales in one side’s favor, giving the Steelheads a full nine players to the Pilots eight (they had no DH), and the results spoke for themselves. The Pilots were predominantly younger/bench players, with only Shed Long Jr. and Daniel Vogelbach near-certain to open the season as starters. They got a quintet of relievers led by Joey Gerber to face most of Seattle’s “A” squad. On the other side, Kendall Graveman wove a gem in his final preseason outing, lining up for his first start of the season next Monday, July 27, in the final game of Seattle’s Houston set.
Graveman was in a giving mood, in that he gave the Pilots the business. Eight strikeouts in 4.0 innings pitched, working 95-96 consistently with his four-seam and sinker, and locating all his offerings with aplomb. His most visually striking sequence was against Jarred Kelenic, with this gnarly three pitch combo:
Here’s Kendall Graveman striking out Jarred Kelenic on three pitches.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 22, 2020
Sinker inside corner
Slider under the hands
Sinker on the front hip that goes inside corner pic.twitter.com/d2RCRTShg2
Divish noted later in the game Graveman’s second pitch in the plate appearance was a cutter, but what it actually was is nasty. All three pitchers form a small, near-equilateral triangle on the same spot on the plate, giving lefties like Kelenic fits.
This pitch is probably a ball, but it’s called a strike a heckuva lot of the time because of how much it runs. It’s a classic foil for lefties, and I distinctly remember Daniel Vogelbach striking out on this exact running fastball what felt like 58 times last year. In fact, Graveman got that exact pitch on Vogelbach later in the game!
Plus, as Mikey Ajeto wrote about last week, the seemingly fluid integration of a four-seam fastball makes Graveman a greater threat to right-handed hitters too. The Mariners didn’t exactly run a murderer’s row of same-handed hitters to challenge him this evening, but Graveman mowed down the guys he was put against:
Strikeout No. 5 for Kendall Graveman came on this 96-mph fastball to Patrick Wisdom pic.twitter.com/U76uWHfQJI— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 22, 2020
Again, this looks like it catches somewhere between 0-3% of the plate (our kingdom for a straight-on camera angle, benevolent Mariners/ROOT overlords), but unfortunately for the Patrick Wisdoms of the world, this is a called strike as often as not. Credit as well to Austin Nola, spelling Tom Murphy behind the dish as the Murph rests his ankle from a few foul balls, for some excellent framing that M’s pitchers should be thrilled about. Graveman would allow just one hit (a lined single from Shed Long) in his four innings of work, along with a single walk, and heads into the season with about as much tangible eye-opening as a player can do in 2.5 weeks of weird, surprise baseball. Making that work against Springer-Altuve-Correa is a different beast than Walton-Bishop-Wisdom, but every measurable is as positive as could be hoped right now.
On the other side of things, the Steelheads did a number on a few of Seattle’s young relievers. Joey Gerber started things off well, striking out Mallex Smith and Evan White, but Kyle Seager laced a double into the gap and Kyle Lewis worked a low-effort walk before Jose Marmolejos made one of his final cases to make the club.
At no point in time was that fastball from Gerber outside the heart of the plate, but many a lesser lefty 1B has seen their fortunes flounder driving the ball into that left-center gap. It strikes me as a bit foolish to run Marmo out there over Jake Fraley (who K’d twice to Graveman) on Opening Day, who would seem the likeliest playing time casualty, if the case is merely that Fraley has looked rough in camp. While Fraley HAS struggled, the stronger case would be if Fraley is still weakened from the stomach bug that reportedly sidelined him for a few days recently. The time has to be now for Fraley, as the outfield isn’t going to get any less crowded, but if the difference is a week of weights and Gatorade or going out there like mono-sapped Ketel Marte, Fraley might be better served taking a little R&R.
Following Gerber was Yohan Ramirez, who has met every expectation as a coin flip dragon/salamander, spitting hot fire in one outing, then roasting in the sun the next. Today we got the more exciting face of the Rule-5 pick, as he set down the side including a pair of strikeouts and an extremely unhappy Dylan Moore.
In good news: Yohan Ramirez is in the strike zone more, (much to Dylan Moore's chagrin). Witness him pogo off-screen in joy: pic.twitter.com/4WEoB6UA9S— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 22, 2020
It’s impossible to say from a distance, but as Kate noted during the game, Ramirez seemed animatedly enthused in communicating with the coaching staff as he returning to the dugout, and perhaps something discussed pregame manifested in his more controlled outing. Seattle’s bullpen has few sure things, so a more prominent role is Yohan’s for the taking.
Next up was Sam Delaplane, who worked himself into a spot of trouble before honing in on his bread-and-butter slider to set things straight. Both Evan White and Kyle Seager were victimized by the slider in particular.
Delaplane has too many guys ahead of him to think he’ll make the roster right away, but we’ll see him in Seattle this year at some point, and he may not leave. He will be hard-pressed to displace Matt Magill, however, who worked through a pair of singles (Marmolejos and Nola) to wiggle out of trouble, likely following the wiggle-adept lessons of his caterpillar-esque lip shading.
Last for the Pilots on the hill was Dan Altavilla, who is battling for a job as he enters 2020 without minor league options or fastball command. Tonight, on the heels of several solid intrasquad performances, with a chance to solidify himself in the middle of Seattle’s enigmatic bullpen, he instead highlighted everything that has made Alt so hard to trust or quit for the past several years. After falling behind Mallex Smith but inducing a groundout, Evan White got ahold of a 96 mph fastball that missed its spot a bit, but not horrifically. Unfortunately, as has seemingly been the case at all the worst times since Altavilla’s rookie season, the maximum damage was done.
Evan White’s laser of a solo homer — 96 mph coming in plus 105 mph going out pic.twitter.com/R924isxvBx— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 22, 2020
This wasn’t even the most blistering blast by White on the night, as he put a different ball onto the street via the upper concourse just foul down the left field line back in the first inning. Still, an inauspicious start for Altavilla, which got worse as a milquetoast two-strike slider gave Kyle Seager a looping single into center. One more missed spot to Kyle Lewis, and three runs were in in a flash.
This isn’t a wall scraper oppo bomb from Kyle Lewis. This real power to right field. pic.twitter.com/jdgOop7Mhf— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 22, 2020
One more run would ultimately come in as Austin Nola (is he just actually good?) doubled off the wall in right-center and J.P. Crawford singled him home to seal the 7-0 thumping. On the one hand, Altavilla had a number of moments where the outing could have gone differently. He got several swings and misses on well-placed fastballs, and was in a position to put away hitters but just couldn’t locate consistently. The 30-man roster will be more full of Steelheads than Pilots when the club leaves for Houston this Thursday, but that number crunch is going to come soon enough for the bullpen. Today the M’s top group looked season-ready, but we’ve just about capped what can be gleaned from matching blades against one another. The real stuff is just around the corner.