Taijuan Walker Broken: Better Them Than Us

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As I was removing my Mariners lanyard with the inscription “Property of Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole,” I ran across the post on MLB Trade Rumors that former M’s first round pick Tai Walker partially tore his UCL and will be having Tommy John surgery.

Walker, you remember him, former first round draft choice with millions of tons of potential, but never quite fulfilled it as a Mariner. He certainly had moments of real goodness, but it never quite happened.  Jerry Dipoto’s best trade of 2017 was sending Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks for Jean Segura and little known outfielder Mitch Haniger.  Yes, that Haniger who has held the M’s together while awaiting the return of Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino.

I never wish any player ill, and I still have hope that Walker, all of 25, will overcome his injury and be good.  He had a solid year for Arizona in 2017, making 28 starts for 157.1 innings, with 3.49 ERA, 4.04 FIP good enough for a 9-9 record.  He also struck out 146, walked 61 and allowed 17 homers.

There were times, when Segura and Haniger were injured, I lamented the trade of Walker.  With all the pitching injuries, he would have been second on the team in innings pitched right behind Ariel Miranda

But I’ve thought better of it.  Cheers to Tai Walker and the Diamondbacks.  I hope your recovery is swift and successful.  And no I’m not snickering.

Mike Zunino soon to return

In speaking of Mike Zunino, he should be returning to the Mariners when they head south to take on Bartolo Colon and the Rangers on Friday night. This morning’s News Tribune offers a great article about Zunino by T.J. Cotterill, and how he managed to get his hitting woes straightened out.  When he was sent down last year, again, he came with his usual bag of excuses explaining that he’d been successful elsewhere  and he just needed a few fixes.  He was told no, by Mariners Minor League Field Coordinator Mike Micucci and rebuilt his swing in several pieces.  But let Cotterill tell the story, it’s a good one. unfortunately it’s behind a paywall and I can’t link to it.

Gamel up, Miranda down, now what?

The M’s sent Ariel Miranda down after his Tuesday performance.  Ben Gamel was called up and played in Wednesday’s game. No need for a fifth starter until, gulp, Sunday.  The team has five outfielders, at least until Sunday when Erasmo Ramirez or Rob Whalen is needed to take the mound in Texas.  It will be interesting to see how long this shell game continues or Jerry Dipoto and company do the right thing.

Tyler O’Neill Called Up

The Cardinals called up former M’s prospect Tyler O’Neill yesterday.  Highly ranked prospect (for the M”s) O’Neill was traded for Marco Gonzales last year, much to the fear and loathing of many fans.  Hmm, Marco, you’ve been shelled your last two outings, maybe you can redeem yourself this afternoon and we can all feel better about this deal.

O’Neill was slashing .388/.385/.837 with six homers in AAA Memphis.  He has a history with a high strikeout rate, so let’s see if he can stick.

Marco, you better get us a win buddy.

Matinee baseball today.  Go M’s

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Painted Into A Corner: The Mariners and Ichiro

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When Ben Gamel went down with an oblique injury during Spring Training, the M’s had lots of choices on how to replace him.  With two healthy starting outfielders in Mitch Haniger and Dee Gordon, and Guillermo Heredia still questionable due to off-season shoulder surgery, the Mariner definitely had some planning to do.

They could have taken a chance on MLB veterans John Andreoli or Kirk Nieuwenweis, knowing their need was fairly temporary.  They could have filled in with prospect Ian Miller for a couple dozen games and given him a sniff of the big leagues.  The Mariners could also have signed a free-agent with the understanding that when Gamel was healthy, they were likely gone, designated for assignment, maybe with a place in the M’s minor leagues if they were so inclined.

But the Mariners signed Ichiro Suzuki.  A Mariner Legend. A future Hall-Of-Famer.  A Mariner fan favorite.

He’s also a 44-year old outfielder whose history with the team vastly exceeds his value on the field in 2018.  In a small sample size over nine games, Ichiro is much the worst of the four Mariner outfielders on the 25-man roster. He’s hitting a paltry .207/.207/.207 slash (never seen that before,) with a wRC+ of only 14, with 100 being average.  Defensively, things are just as dismal.  In left field, his UZR/150 is a ghastly -24.9.

Look all this is over a pretty small collection of games for a guy who had little Spring Training, is coming off a calf injury and may offer some clubhouse leadership and team chemistry. But, the bottom line is Ichiro simply doesn’t have the physical skills to contribute significantly to this team on the field.

And Gamel is ready.  And he’s stuck in Tacoma, according to News Tribune writer T.J. Cotterill. That’s not terrible.  I’m stuck in Tacoma and I kind of like it. But Gamel is destined to be the M’s left fielder, and should be in Seattle. Heredia should be the number four guy.

The Mariners have said they will carry five outfielders.  That is extremely unusual for this team and any team in this relief heavy era.  In the past the M’s carried each of the position players (3 OF, 4 IF, C) for eight, a reserve catcher, DH, reserve IF (who can perhaps play OF too) and maybe a platoon at 1B.  That leaves space for five starters and as many relievers as possible.  For this team, that’s typically been eight.

To keep a fifth outfielder means some one has to go.  Currently the M’s are carrying two utility players in Andrew Romine and Taylor Motter, but both of them offer maximum position flexibility because they can both play all infield positions AND the outfield.  Romine would assuredly stay because he is the emergency catcher. There’s no way the M’s will give up a reliever–not with this rotation, or in this day and age.

Adding to this picture is the Mariners have not needed a fifth starter.  As of this writing they have only rotation mates Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake, and Marco Gonzalez on the roster.  Today they will need to call up Ariel Miranda to take the fifth starter spot.  That will likely require that Motter follow I-5 to Cheney Stadium.

Meanwhile, Gamel is ready, according to Cotterill.  He was ready on Sunday.  He was ready yesterday.  He’ll be ready today, but he’ll be playing in a Rainiers uniform.

The Mariners have no business carrying a fifth outfielder.  Who is going to sit?  No, really. Manager Scott Servais suggested on March 7th, the day after Ichiro signed on to his return gig, that he could play often for the Mariners.

“He probably plays four, five times a week, something like that, depending on the match-ups and the schedule,” Servais said.

In making this commitment to Ichiro, Servais, General Manager Jerry Dipoto and the entire Mariners organization set themselves up for a public relations disaster of the highest order.

If they release the Mariner hero and legend, they risk humiliating a key connection to the last Mariners playoff team.  Did they tell him he’d likely only be a Mariner until Gamel returned from injury?  My guess is they didn’t.

Releasing Number 51 would also alienate a significant portion of the Mariner fan base.  There are sizable number of fans with very long memories with incredible loyalty to Mariners past.  The M’s often market to these folks, some might say quite cynically, as the team brought back Griffey in 2009, Ibanez in 2013, and now Ichiro in 2018 just to recapture that nostalgia and (older) fan support.

But keeping Ichiro on the roster reduces the talent on the team, takes playing time away from better players, and takes a badly needed roster spot.

The M’s have painted themselves into a terrible public relations corner on this one.  If they really want to win, Ichiro must go.  These guys have gotten off to a great start, they show promise, it’s time to do the right thing.  Just do it fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

Felix and Paxton Shine, Give Hope

The M’s lost to the Athletics 2-1 on Sunday due to a dominating performance by Sean Manaea.  The Mariners mustered only a pair of hits off the hard-luck A’s starter and a pair of relievers.

But Monday, turnabout was fair play, as Seattle beat the visiting Astros 2-1 on a solo homer by the still gimpy Nelson Cruz, and took advantage of some less than perfect outfield conditions that turned into a run on back to back doubles by catcher David Freitas and center fielder Dee Gordon.

Two games, identical scores, one a win and one a loss. Not a lot in a 162 game schedule.  But if those don’t give Mariners fans hope, I don’t know what will.

Felix and Manaea

Let’s take a look at Felix Hernandez’s performance on Sunday. 97 pitches bought The King 6.1 innings, 7 K’s and 0 walks. The runs came when Marcus Semien led off with a single, and Felix uncharacteristically balked him to second.  He grooved a 3-0 fastball to Mariner-Killer Jed Lowrie who deposited it in the right field seats, for the game winning homer. Hernandez allowed only five hits in his outing.  While I’d love to see him get deeper in the game, the bullpen allowed only two hits and no runs during the remaining 2.2 innings. The team has to score to win, and the M’s just didn’t come through against a good A’s pitcher.

Paxton beats astros

Monday night’s game matched Mariners ace James Paxton against former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel pitching for the visiting Astros.  The Astros have smacked the Mariners around pretty consistently the past few years, and this series will be a yardstick to measure just how good the 2018 team might be. This was an important game.

And it didn’t get off to an auspicious start when that man, George Springer, led off the game with a 453 foot fly ball into the left center field seats. Paxton struggled to get through innings, while Keuchel seemed to breeze through them. But over the course of his 106 pitches, the big Canadian allowed only one more hit to, Carlos Correa. Paxton struck out 7 and walked three.  Despite all the good news, he only got through 6.0 innings.  The bullpen was brilliant for a second consecutive day and M’s won an exciting squeaker.

Though neither the Sunday or Monday performances were perfect, they were indicative of the impact that a healthy and effective Felix and Big Maple has on this team.  They kept the Mariners in games against two very good pitchers and allowed the offense to scratch out what they could against good pitching. One day it paid off, the other it didn’t.

The Mariners should be congratulated for getting off to a hot start. But without seeming  a killjoy, four of those nine wins have come against the Royals and A’s, who give every appearance of looking bad for 2018.  They’ll need more strong performances from all their starters as the year progresses, and they’ll need to match up with the big guys too.  That’s why last night’s win over the Astros is so encouraging. Here’s hoping Mike Ariel Miranda, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzalez can be effective too.

Go M’s.

 

The Schedule is Friendly and the M’s Need to Take Advantage

Usually the season starts with lots of home and away against division opponents. By the end of May the Mariners will have played all the usual suspects: Houston, Anaheim, Texas and Oakland.

But with lots of the American League rebuilding/tanking, they also take on some of the league’s patsies early in the season. April isn’t a great month because the team is on the road and is only at Safeco for the seven game series beginning on Friday

It’s not so much where they play, but who they play that leaves me hopeful. They took two from the Royals on the road, and they’ll play three games each against the struggling A’s, Rangers and White Sox. That makes it easier to swallow four games each against very good Astros and Indians teams.

May is even better, with 19 games at home. They do play three games at home against the fast-starting Angels, and three more on the road against a decent Blue Jays team. Throw in four games against the Twins, including the make up game from the April 8th freeze-out and those are the more challenging games. The balance is made up of six games against the A’s, seven games against the Tigers, and four against the Rangers.

So the Mariners will only have one series each against the Angels and Astros in April and May, and they’ll play lots of games against teams that aren’t so good.

Let’s be clear, the M’s still have to beat the not-very-good teams, and there’s always one that seems to be their nemesis. They also can’t be awful against the projected leaders, as they were in 2017 against the Astros and Angels. No matter how favorable the schedule you still have to win.

But things get uglier in June and July as the M’s load up on games with the Angels and Astros, and take their road trip east into New York and Boston.

The Mariners are off to a solid start. They need to sustain their momentum by taking advantage of the favorable schedule before tough sledding starts in the summer months

Go M’s

The Mariners at 10 games

Seager's homer beats Royals

Kyle Seager’s two run homer in the eighth was the difference in Seattle’s 4-2 victory over Kansas City.  It sent the M’s home with a winning road trip and a 6-4 record through their first ten games. Jim Mone/AP

The M’s make their way home from Kansas City on the winds of 4-2 series clinching win.  At 6-4 Seattle has to feel pretty good about where they are, taking two from Cleveland, winning their first road series, and splitting with an improved Twins team.  They’re a couple games behind the streaking Angels in the division lead, and 1.5 games behind the world champion Astros.  Not so good.

But think about the first ten games of 2017.  The M’s were 2-8 and they would struggle to catch up to .500 throughout the year.

It’s ten games.  There’s a whole lot we don’t know about this team–like how they will compete with those Angels and Astros.  But we’ll find out soon, as the Astros motor into Safeco Field next week.  But I do have some interesting observations

Pitching Roulette

Except for Mike Leake, who was okay in his first two outings, each pitcher has had one start that was utter, stinking poo. I’m always amused by those who rush to judgment after a start to claim this pitcher is the next coming of Walter Johnson or that pitcher is done, get rid of him now.  What the bad outings by James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Marco Gonzalez seem to indicate is we don’t know who they are going to be.  They don’t seem to be a threat to unseat Corey Kluber as the best pitcher in the American League, but I also don’t see the M’s scurrying off to sign Yovani Gallardo after his release from the Reds.  That’s comforting.  Paxton looked good against the Royals today.  Hopefully more of the same against the Astros, and perhaps into the seventh inning

Put away all the sharp objects and hand rails in the dugout now

Nelson Cruz, Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and Ryon Healy.  That’s lots of lumber the M’s were counting on to drive in runs for this season.  But it’s all on the DL.  The Mariners were touted as having a potent offense in the off-season.  We’ve heard varying reports when these guys may return.  According to Brent Stecker reporting for MysportsNW.com, Gamel and Cruz could return on Friday. Zunino, probably the following week.  For Healy, anyone’s guess.  It’s not just that the M’s have so many injuries.  It’s the nature of them.  Zunino and Gamel are recovering from oblique strains, and those things just happen in baseball.  But Cruz slipped on a dugout step and sprained his ankle. Healy injured his ankle while working out after a game in Minnesota.  Everyone needs to be assigned a keeper who can catch these guys when they’re falling.

But some guys are off to a great start

It’s pretty hard to look at the beginning Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano and Mitch Haniger had and not just nod your head and say “yup.”  Each is off to a quick start, and it’ s easy to fall into a dream-like state wondering how things would be if Cruz and Zunino were safely in the line up, instead of doing stretching exercises.  While I like all those guys in blue, I’ll be happy to give Mike Marjama more time on the bench, while Taylor Motter and Andrew Romine duke it out to make the latest restaurant opening in Tacoma. There’s no point in delving into stats. Let’s give it forty games or so to see what we’ve really got.

So 6-4 after ten games and completing a winning road trip?  Yeah, I’ll take it.  Given the injuries and some of the pitching malfunctions, it’s a pretty good start.  Let’s hope for at least more of the same as the M’s open a seven game series at home.  Four games against the Astros?  That seems unfair.

Go M’s

 

 

Day 2-The Thrill is Gone

Mike Zunino injury

I spent most of Friday walking around school with a big smile on face.  That despite the fact the yearbook and newspaper are both on deadline and I’m suffering from insomnia.  Basking in the afterglow of Thursday’s 2-1 win over Cory Kluber and the Indians was just too much.

I kept thinking about tonight’s match-up between James Paxton and Carlos Carrasco.  Our ace against their number two guy.  It’s a chance to throw down a series win right here.

One win does a lot to you.  I mean we beat the Indians that won 102 games last year.  We beat Kluber-Cy Young Award winning Kluber.  Maybe the M’s are better than we thought.  Maybe we don’t stink.  Maybe we aren’t mediocre.  Maybe we can make the playoffs.

However, staying late on a Friday night with my newspaper students, I began scrolling through MLB Trade Rumors and the first headline I saw was “Mike Zunino Placed on DL with Oblique Strain.”  Gah!

In the M’s are predicted to score buckets of run department, this is not good news.  The severity of the strain wasn’t reported, but the good news is he is only on the 10-day DL.  He’s eligible to come off the disabled list after the San Francisco series–if he’s ready.  But these injuries are stubborn.  Ben Gamel was projected to be 4-6 weeks with his injury and that now seems long.  Mitch Haniger was out for six weeks last summer.

In any case, the job is now Mike Marjama’s.  He was Scott Servais’ game MVP on Thursday, surviving his right hand injury when struck by Edgar Encarnacion’s bat in the second inning.  Despite obvious pain, he stayed in the game and received great praise from Felix Hernandez for his game plan, and has the respect of the pitching staff.  On the other hand, I don’t expect him to hit .250 with 30 home runs.

This is why we can’t have nice things. Like a playoff spot.

Go M’s

The King, The Boomstick and Sugar

Felix 2018

If you didn’t have an opportunity to catch last night’s Mariners 2-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in the season opener, that’s really all you’d need to know. That the M’s won over reigning Cy Young winner Cory Kluber, made it that much more remarkable.

Quite simply, Felix Hernandez came out in the first inning and retired the Tribe on 11 pitches and set the tone for a game that would be his to win.  The King went 5.1 innings on 83 pitches, allowed no runs on two hits, struck out four and walked two. In the game on a limited pitch count, Felix showed he could pitch in a new way.  Fingers crossed for start number two.

Cory Kluber is not an easy early season draw.  So when Robinson Cano singled in the first inning, Nelson Cruz followed with an ambush of a first-pitch cutter that stayed in the middle of the plate.  The big man stroked a majestic mortar shot into the left-center seats 411 feet away.  Mariners lead 2-0.

The M’s remained stayed ahead running out platoons of relievers to fill in after Felix left to a standing ovation in the sixth.  Dan Altavilla got Jose Ramirez to ground into a double play after Jason Kipness walked.  The seventh inning was more challenging as the Indians dinked and dunked a couple of hits around a Lonnie Chisenhall double, scoring a run, cutting the M’s lead to 2-1, but Nick Vincent eventually escaped.  Juan Nicasio pitched a perfect eighth.

The ninth inning, I wouldn’t exactly call magical, I would suggest it was stomach churning.  Closer Edwin Diaz came on to wrap things up and promptly struck out Yonder Alonso.  But he hit Edgar Encarnacion on the hand, and balked pinch-runner Rajai Davis to second. Diaz followed by hitting Chisenhall, so tying and go-ahead runners on base with one out. Davis stole third.  The air began to come out of the balloon. But Diaz struck out Yan Gomes and Tyler Naquin to put a point on the evening.  M’s win.

The Good

Felix Hernandez-He may not be the King we remember, but he showed he can still get the job done.  He did, at times throw a lot of pitches.  23 in the second inning wiped out much hope of him getting through the sixth inning. But he was good, and he looked nasty, depending more on a great curve than I can remember.

Nelson Cruz-Cruz didn’t play much during Spring Training, nursing a quad injury which was clearly evident during a ground out in his second at bat.  But when he gets solid bat on the ball contact he sure is nasty.  The news of his decline is, at least for one night, premature.

Mitch Haniger-Another guy who didn’t play a lot in the Cactus League due to the injury.  Haniger was 3-3 against one of the toughest pitchers in the American League.

The Bullpen-Notwithstanding Diaz’s struggle with command, the bullpen threw 2.2 innings, allowing only one run.

The Not-So-Good

Dee Gordon’s Oops-We were all wondering when Dee Gordon would have an outfield “moment” due to his lack of experience.  He got it out of the way early, taking a step back on a ball into the left field/center field/shortstop triangle of dropped balls. during the sixth inning. It fell in for a single.  There will be more, but I think he’ll be fine.

Ahem, Edwin Diaz-Lots was made about Diaz’s new approach to his game.  Maybe it was opening-day jitters, maybe it was just a tough night.  Here’s hoping the next forty or so saves are a bit easier to come by.

But honestly, I’m just bitchin’.  It was a great game.  The M’s managed just enough offense to win.  The pitching was just good enough to hold off a really good Indians team, going with a great starter in Kluber.  Let’s do it again Saturday.

Go M’s.