Saturday, May 01, 2010
Well, this game saw the Mariner debut of Cliff Lee. The way it ended was more like a light version of the inaugural game at Safeco Field. It kinda felt like it. There definitely was buzzkill, that's for sure. The Mariner offense has been horribly inconsistent this year, sure, but the complete lack of clutch in this game was absolutely frustrating. After Lee left the game, the Mariner offense basically begged to lose this game. I guess the requisite hockey analogy here would be when one team outshoots the other team 40-23 but loses 3-2. In hockey, you would lack finish or quality shots. In this game, the Mariners loaded the bases in both the 10th and 11th innings and failed to score. That's when karma intervened in the top of the 12th and the bounces went the other way almost instantly. Before I go on, I must mention what to me was a surprise roster move as Jesus Colome somehow stayed on the roster when Cliff Lee was added. The man bumped off the active roster was Shawn Kelley, who had options remaining and was sent down. They might as well bring back Ryan Langerhans now because Don Wakamatsu hasn't used Colome in nearly two weeks.
-- maybe I'll start with the good. For his first start of the season, Cliff Lee had a great outing. I thought early on that his pitch count was a little high, but I'll take seven innings every time out from him. Of course, my expectations of him are pretty high, and it's no secret that this start isn't his ceiling. He can do better. Mike Blowers brought up during the broadcast that Lee's pitch count was high at times because of all the foul balls. Lee threw 98 pitches, 73 for strikes. The ESPN.com boxscore shows a total of 31 of those strikes came on foul balls and 15 of the strikes were on balls in play. I just hope this outing doesn't turn him into Ryan Franklin and he ends up spouting off about the lack of run support or something. It has to be at least a slight bit disappointing to throw like that and have zero runs of support. Hell, the Mariners only had three hits through nine innings. Lee had that breaking ball working. I just wish he wouldn't have picked the alternate jerseys for the game.
-- I didn't mind Lee striking out eight hitters. That was wonderful, but I swear, the next time FSNNW goes to the behind-the-plate camera on a two-strike count, I'm going to break something. With that view, you can only approximately see where the ball ends up since the umpire and the catcher are both obstructing it. This combined with missing game action after replays and the brutal fonts and graphics are what really piss me off about FSNNW's coverage of the Mariners. Also, the cut-aways to the Bellevue studio are way uncomfortable.
-- now for the bullpen. Mark Lowe and David Aardsma handled the eighth and ninth. Lowe gave up only a two-out walk and wild-pitched the runner to second. Aardsma is one of the gameballs below. Once the game got to extra innings, I thought Jesus Colome should have been on the mound. He was well rested, and Don Wakamatsu probably wouldn't use him for another two weeks anyway. Instead, Brandon League was summoned from the bullpen and threw consecutive 1-2-3 innings in the 10th and 11th. After the Mariner bats failed miserably in the bottom halves of both innings, I thought Wakamatsu was tempting fate by sending League out there again for the 12th. The top of the 12th required some celestian alignment. Elvis Andrus and Michael Young both hit extremely high-chopping infield singles. Matt Tuiasosopo tried to gun down Young on his single, but threw wide of first, moving both runners into scoring position. One wild pitch to Josh Hamilton got to the backstop (I don't think I can put that one on Adam Moore) scored the first run of the game, and it was all the Rangers would need. Hamilton was intentionally put aboard once he had a 2-0 count on him. A groundout to third by Julio Borbon scored the Rangers' second run (part of me wanted Lopez to charge that ball really hard and throw home). Sean White came in and retired the final two hitters in the 12th.
-- the bullpen rest bulletin: Lowe, Aardsma, League, and White all worked in this game, with League probably out until at least Sunday's game. Going into Saturday's game, Ian Snell will have three days of rest (after throwing 5 1/3 innings and 104 pitches), Kanekoa Texeira will have seven days of rest, Jesus Colome will have 12 days of rest.
-- the Mariner offense made Colby Lewis look like the greatest pitcher ever, failing to put any runners past second base in the first nine innings. It doesn't help with the 9-1-2 hitters (Moore/Jack Wilson/Ichiro) see exactly five pitches in the bottom of the fifth. The same three hitters saw 10 pitches to account for the eighth inning.
-- there wasn't a lot of clutch in the first nine innings for the Mariner offense because there weren't a lot of runners aboard. Ichiro led off the game with a base hit and Andrus airmailed the throw to first, putting Ichiro on second. Chone Figgins then either blew the hit-and-run or swung at the first pitch and flew out, both of which are infuriating. I guess I don't mind the element of surprise, but Figgins is sort of adept at grinding out at-bats. A little more of that and Lewis doesn't last nine innings. There's no reason Ichiro should end up on second to lead off, then still be standing there five pitches later because the inning's done. For good measure, Ichiro led off the third with a single and Figgins blew a hit-and-run by popping out to right on the third pitch. Figgins did grind out his final at-bat in the ninth, pushing the edge of Lewis' pitch count, but it was too late. Lewis retired the final 21 Mariner hitters he faced. Awful showing by the Mariner bats, but unfortunately it didn't end there.
-- now, the Mariners' 10th inning. Ken Griffey Jr. led it off with a well-placed slow roller toward short that never really got there, and even Griffey was able to leg out a single. Eric Byrnes instantly replaced Griffey for running duties. A floating double down the leftfield line by Milton Bradley pushed Byrnes to third, though I thought Mike Brumley might have been crazy enough to send him. I only rued the decision in hindsight. What happened next? Maybe this inning was the start of the celestial alignment that definitely existed in the top of the 12th. Casey Kotchman check-swung on a 2-0 pitch and popped out weakly to the shortstop -- this was completely unclutch. Adam Moore was put aboard to load the bases and get a double-play possibility, then Mike Sweeney was brought off the bench to pinch hit. Darren O'Day came in from the bullpen (replacing Darren Oliver) and Sweeney swung at the first pitch, hitting into a broken-bat, tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. Two runners in scoring position, nobody out? SO WHAT!!
-- now, the Mariners' 11th inning. Ichiro led off with a first-pitch single off Frank Francisco. With Wakamatsu apparently eschewing the hit-and-run, Figgins bunted on the first pitch, placing in perfectly on the infield grass so that everyone was safe. Perfect scenario, right? Franklin Gutierrez just barely bunted foul along the first-base line, took the next pitch looking for a strike, then whiffed on the 1-2 pitch. I think the broadcast crew mentioned Gutierrez could have push-bunted. Jose Lopez walked to load the bases, but then stuff got weird. Byrnes appeared to have blown a suicide squeeze attempt as he appeared to pull back a bunt attempt then kinda 25%-offered at it again, all the while with Ichiro streaking in from third base. Matt Treanor behind the plate actually had dropped the ball and barely recovered in time to have Ichiro run into his tag. Texas manager Ron Washington at this point was tossed for arguing that Byrnes whiffed on the bunt (he didn't) and that the count should have been 1-1 instead of 0-2 as a result (later moot). At least the other two runners moved up on the play, but Byrnes looked at the next three pitches for strikes to end the inning. At least a lazy flyout would have put the ball in play. Two on, nobody out? SO WHAT!!
-- now, I won't write anytihng about the Mariners' 12th inning since they went away with a whimper.
-- other isolated offensive happenings... Griffey put a pop foul in front of the Mariner dugout in the fourth that landed between Treanor and first baseman Justin Smoak when one of them clearly should have had it. Griffey later whiffed to end the at-bat. In the seventh, Kotchman's swinging bunt went a few feet up the third-base line. Treanor went over to field it, threw well into the runner and wide of first (it was almost like Treanor was trying to get Smoak killed), and the ball flew past. After a few moments of confusion, the umpires had ruled Kotchman was out for failing to stay within the 45-foot restraining line. I didn't think this rule applied when the throw to first was a crap throw. Anyway, there were two outs before the play happened anyway, and the chances of Moore and Wilson driving in Kotchman were pretty slim.
-- isolated defensive happenings... Wilson made an over-the-shoulder catch with one out off Ryan Garko in the fifth on a ball that Gutierrez may not have seen. With a runner on first, this proved to be a key play because Smoak ended up lining right to Figgins to start an inning-ending double play. Also, Ichiro made a wonderful running catch in rightcenter to rob Vladimir Guerrero of a double.
Yr W-L Pct GB
2001 19-4 .826 --
2002 17-6 .739 2
2003 15-8 .652 4
2009 14-9 .609 5
2000 13-10 .565 6
2007 12-11 .522 7
2005 12-11 .522 7
2010 11-12 .478 8
2008 11-12 .478 8
2006 9-14 .391 10
2004 8-15 .348 11
1) Cliff Lee
He did everything he could and pitched wonderfully in his first Mariner start. Hopefully the lack of offense doesn't sour him on the Mariner experience, since it'd be really cool if he signed with the Mariners beyond this year. This game might be the worst example of offensive ineptitude, but one can't help but think it won't be the last time Lee is burned by a nonexistent offense this year. Even Felix Hernandez got burned by a crap offense in his last start. I wonder how much longer Jack Zduriencik will stand back and watch brilliant starting pitching going to waste before he starts making some moves to at least shake up the offense. Sure, what the Mariners are going through right now isn't as bad as the 2-6 start, but how much better does an average day out of the offense now compare to what it was during the first week and change of the season? Is the ceiling for the Mariner offense anywhere near as high as we thought it would be? Right now, I'm not convinced the offense is better than last year's offense, and last year's offense was pretty bad.
It was another day at the offense for the Mariners' leadoff hitter. In addition to a nice running catch, Ichiro went 3-for-5, making him 33-for-96 (.344) on the season. Hitting directly behind Ichiro, Figgins failed two out of three times to advance Ichiro further on the basepaths. Ichiro was also the unfortunate victim of an apparent botched suicide squeeze with Byrnes at the plate in the 11th. That would have been a hell of a play to end the game, that's for sure. Ichiro's doing his job, but I wonder if he's going to start putting some of this on his shoulders soon and start trying to turn on the inside pitch every once in a while. He doesn't have to, obviously, and it's probably better if he doesn't, but an odd homer out of Ichiro might be the tonic this offense needs. It's all fun and games until Ichiro's swing gets messed up for two weeks because he's trying to hit homers.
3) David Aardsma
I remember when Kazuhiro Sasaki would seemingly only pitch well in save situations. He would come into tie games and end up the losing pitcher. When Aardsma came into the ninth to keep the game tied, I watched with a little bit of apprehension. Aardsma got a groundout from Andrus and set Young and Hamilton down swinging. The strikeouts were handed out with a bit of authority. This was a great game for the Mariner pitching staff after nine innings. One could argue it was still a very good game for Mariner pitching since there's no way League can pitch away from high choppers. League just ran into a patch of bad luck in the 12th, and the margin of error with the offense is so thin that the Rangers didn't need much of a window of opportunity to score runs. It seems with this team that in their losses, it's always one complete phase of the game that lets them down rather than just one hitter or just one guy out of the bullpen. It can never be one guy out of the offense sucking in the clutch, for instance, it has to be the whole damned team.
The Mariners' centerfielder and number-three hitter is officially in his first mini-slump of the season. Gutierrez struck out in his final at-bat in Kansas City on the 27th. This makes it an 0-for-11 slump with seven strikeouts, and he's left a combined 10 runners aboard (not stranded) in just a little over two games. Since I never came into the season envisioning Gutierrez as a number-three hitter, I'm less attached to him hitting in that slot. There's no way he's going to last the rest of the season batting third, and with the other hitters in the lineup, he really shouldn't. That said, I wonder how long the leash will be when it comes to leaving him there. I think he'll probably have to be ice cold for about a week before Wakamatsu thinks of moving him around in the lineup. My one problem with the Mariners picking up Figgins is that I really liked Gutierrez hitting right behind Ichiro, and I hate having Gutierrez in the bottom third of the lineup.
Harrison. Hernandez. Today.