Saturday, April 17, 2010
It seems as the Mariners regress up to the mean in the early going, more things end up happening that remind us the 2-6 start was the result of an inopportune planetary alignment. After 10 games without scoring more than three runs in an inning, the Mariners put up a six-run fifth inning along with a three-run third and a two-run fourth. The big inning had finally come up in the Mariners' wheel of fortune. More importantly, their best players were their best players on this night as both teams wore the number 42 on their jerseys in observance of Jackie Robinson Day even though it was the 16th, but the Mariners had the 15th off. Former Sonic and journeyman basketball coach Lenny Wilkens threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Ken Griffey Jr. "The Kid" Bobblehead Night.
-- the first through fifth hitters in the lineup (starters) combined for some gaudy numbers. They went 9-for-19 with a triple and seven RBIs, scored six of the Mariners' 11 runs, walked three times, struck out once, and stole two bases. Four of the first five hitters had multi-hit games, and the lone hitless Mariner out of the five (Chone Figgins) drew three walks, two of which came off Tiger starter Jeremy Bonderman. Casey Kotchman and Rob Johnson also walked once apiece off Bonderman, helping to send his pitch count climbing. The Mariners accomplished their mission and drove Bonderman from the game in the fifth. The Mariners had sent five hitters to the plate, and on the final hitter he faced, Bonderman walked Johnson (how hard is that to do?) with the bases loaded and nobody out to expand the Mariners' lead to 7-2.
-- after Bonderman left the game, the Mariners still had the bases loaded with nobody out, and Brad Thomas came to the mound. Thomas proceeded to set Bonderman's ERA ablaze. Jack Wilson proved he isn't completely worthless and hit a sufficiently deep fly ball to score Milton Bradley from third to make it 8-2, and Kotchman even tagged and moved to third. Ichiro got his hitting shoes on and singled to make it 9-2, then Figgins walked to reload the bases with one out. Franklin Gutierrez singled over the left side of the infield to move everyone up 90 feet and make it 10-2. Finally, Jose Lopez hit a fly ball to right which made for a very close play at the plate. It looked like the throw home beat Ichiro, but somehow he got the left hand in there right before being tagged by the catcher. That made it 11-2, and this bullet point and the last are the anatomy of the Mariners' six-run fifth inning.
-- but the Mariners had already put runs on the board in the two previous innings. In the third, Ichiro singled with two out, took second with a Bonderman pickoff attempt bounced under his slide into first base, then stole third when he took off on a 3-1 pitch to Figgins that ended up being ball four. With runners on the corners and two out, Gutierrez drove a ball that bounced and reached the wall in the rightcenter gap, score both runners to draw first blood for the Mariners and make it 2-0. Since the double was hit far enough and in the right place, Gutierrez legged out the Mariners' first triple of the season. That's right. The Mariners' first triple of the season wasn't hit by Ichiro or Figgins or Griffey (ha!), it was hit by Franklin Gutierrez. I'm liking that contract extension more and more every day. As for the Mariner fourth, Kotchman led off with a walk, then Johnson proved he wasn't worthless (even after whiffing on a fastball with his catcher's mitt and having it go off his shin guard) and bunted a ball that stayed fair down the third-base line and hit the bag. Wilson then put down a nice bunt in front of the plate that would have moved the runners over 90 feet for Ichiro with one out, and in theory it would have worked if catcher Gerald Laird had not overthrown Miguel Cabrera at first base. Kotchman scored to make the Mariners lead 4-2. After an Ichiro flyout, Figgins hit a sacrifice fly to score Johnson and make it 5-2.
-- it was a Felix day, so Felix shall get some paragraphage. He couldn't quite finish seven innings. He was hitting 97mph late in the game with the fastball, and while he walked two hitters, he went to full counts on seven hitters. While full counts don't always lead to walks, they always (and mathematically) mean that the pitcher has thrown at least five pitches. Felix threw a 1-2-3 second inning, but went to full counts on all three hitters. In the seventh, he started to lose the radar and went to full counts on the first two hitters to lead off the inning. Cabrera ended up striking out, but Carlos Guillen drew a walk. Felix got Brandon Inge to fly out before Laird's double chased him and Don Wakamatsu summoned Sean White from the bullpen. Similarly with all the full counts, Felix also struck out nine Tigers, which also can lead to a rising of the pitch count, especially considering many pitchers including Felix tend to waste an 0-2 pitch to try to get the hitter to chase something out of the zone. Anyway, it was two runs on four hits for Felix Hernandez, who walked two and struck out nine over 6 2/3 innings. He threw 105 pitches (63 strikes) and got seven groundouts to two flyouts.
-- the bullpen had a huge lead with which to work, so it was a low-pressure night for them. Sean White last worked on April 12th, giving him three days of rest coming into the game. Mark Lowe had not worked since April 10th, giving him five days of rest coming into the game, but apparently he had some kind of back ailment, which would explain the lack of Lowe we've seen in the games lately. Sean White faced six hitters and got four outs, giving up two hits. Mark Lowe threw the ninth inning, giving up a run on two hits, the first of which was Guillen's leadoff double. He faced five hitters to get three outs.
-- the bullpen rest bulletin: White and Lowe threw in this game. Brandon League and David Aardsma will come into Saturday's game with two days of rest, Shawn Kelley will have four days of rest, and Jesus Colome and Kanekoa Texeira will have five days of rest. All this rest definitely wasn't the story during the first couple trips through the rotation.
-- on the Ichiro/Figgins stat, Ichiro and Figgins both scored runs in this game, marking the fourth time this season that's happened. They've both collected hits in the same game three times in the first 11 games.
-- Ichiro had his second straight 2-for-5 night, bumping him up to 12-for-46 (.261) on the season. Twelve hits through 11 games puts Ichiro on pace for a 177-hit season. This situation should eventually right itself and Ichiro should get on pace for well over 200 hits.
1) Franklin Gutierrez
The Mariners' centerfielder was 3-for-5 with a triple and three RBIs. He's hitting .409 and slugging at a .532 clip right now and he's having a hell of a first two weeks of the season. Since's he's not going to maintain a .409 mark for the remaining 151 games, it's everyone's hope that other hitters in the lineup can pick up the slack once Gutierrez tails off a bit. Also, I think Gutierrez is due for another crazy defensive play, so that's a possibility for tonight's game. Anyway, the first Gutierrez hit was the two-run triple, the second was a one-run bases-loaded single in the fifth that made it 10-2, and the third hit was a one-out single in the seventh. Anyway, he staked Felix out to his original lead in the game, and the rest of the lineup piled onto the run total.
2) Ken Griffey Jr.
On his bobblehead night, Junior went 2-for-4. He singled with two out and Lopez on first in the third inning, and singled with Lopez on first with nobody out in the fifth inning to set up the big inning. Griffey only saw nine pitches in the game, but I won't really argue when these are the results. Sadly, his on-base percentage currently is higher than his slugging percentage (.320 to .304). Hopefully he starts driving the ball soon. His .261 batting average now looks a whole lot better than it did in the early going. Part of me hopes he can beat his home run total from last season, but the other part of me knows that it probably wouldn't be a good thing if Griffey got the playing time necessary to get to 20 homers. Still, hopefully the odd double or odd homer starts jumping off Griffey's bat soon.
3) Jose Lopez
The Mariners' third baseman went 2-for-4, driving in two runs. He singled with two out in the third to push the Mariners' lead to 3-0 and led off the Mariners' big inning (the fifth) with a single. Like with Griffey, I'm hoping Lopez finds the power stroke soon. Lopez has his on-base percentage at .319, higher than his slugging mark at .318. In fact, the Mariners have five regulars in their lineup with on-base percentages higher than their slugging percentages. Along with Griffey and Lopez, the other such Mariners are Ichiro (.306 to .283), Figgins (.396 to .351), and Wilson (.216 to .206). It's not just a lack of home-run power, it's a lack of extra-base hitting as well. In the Mariners' six-run fifth inning, they hit six singles, drew two walks, and hit two sacrifice flies (Griffey's fielder's choice ended the inning).
This was a hard night to have to pick a goat. I can't bash Mark Lowe for giving up a run in a no-pressure ninth inning. Jack Wilson was hitless, but turned a nice double play and laid down a nice bunt that ended up in a throwing error that scored the 4-2 run. So, I'll take this opportunity to rail against Rob Johnson's catching ability, or lack thereof. How often do you see a catcher, even when crossed up, whiff with his mitt on a pitch? This is just a capper on all of those times when he fails to block a ball, or he blocks a ball partially and it goes behind him or way off to the side to where he can't reach it and the runners advance. I think Johnson's going to cost this team a ballgame or two behind the plate on his shortcomings behind the plate this season, and if so, that negates his ability to call a good game. I can't help but think there's going to be a game where Felix is pitching, and one of his sinking pitches will fail to get blocked and the Mariners will drop the game because Johnson isn't one-fourth of the catcher Dan Wilson was. If he gets his batting average up to around .245 or .250, I'll cut him some slack. Until then, I'd rather see Adam Moore hitting .150 but catching everything that comes to him.
Verlander. Rowland-Smith. Tonight.