Following in the footsteps of such Mariner greats as Luis Sojo, Chris Widger and Sterling Hitchcock, Charles Gipson has found his way to New York. After not being offered a contract by the Mariners last winter, Gipson signed on with the Cubs but was the last cut in spring training. Rather than accept his assignment to the minors, he instead chose free agency. I laughed at this decision at the time, thinking he had a much better shot of making the majors if he stuck it out with the Cubs because Dusty Baker loves scrappy players who can play multiple positions. Fortunately for Gipson, he didn’t take my advice — not that he asked me — and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. After seven games as a Columbus Clipper, Gipson was recalled to the big club today in favor of OF Chris Latham, who was designated for assignment. What is it about former M’s scrubs who wind up with the Yankees, anyway? What’s worse, you just know Gipson is going to hit a bases-clearing double to win a game in the post-season.
As the resident pessimist, I still see more flaws than a championship team should have. However, 11-8 against that competition is impressive, and I’m certainly thrilled with where we are at the moment. Considering 4-2 on this homestand could be considered a failure, we should head to New York next week with a pretty impressive record. Whether they’ll be able to sustain that is another question.
Offensively, they’re being carried by Boone and Martinez. For differing reasons, there is reason to believe that neither will be able to carry the offense all year. They are simply going to need Ichiro to turn back into something resembling an all-star outfielder and at least one of Cirillo, Cameron, and Olerud to improve their performance in a pretty dramatic way. I’m reasonably optimistic about Ichiro. The others? I’m not sure.
The starting pitching is putting up some pretty scary ratios. After yesterdays start, Ryan Franklin is now averaging 3.86 K/9 has an 8/11 BB/K. Hello Paul Abbott. Joel Pineiro’s 4.85 K/9 is still a far cry from where it should be, given his stuff, and his 11/14 BB/K isn’t very encouraging. Freddy’s K/9 is 5.87, and his 13/15 BB/K is just sorry. Besides Moyer, I don’t think there is one guy in the rotation who you can reasonably expect to pitch well each time out.
It’s a good start, even if it is overrun with lousy performances. I still see a 3rd or 4th place team when I watch them play, but neither Anaheim or Oakland is making a strong case that they’re going to win 100 games again.
So, the initial run through the division is finished. What’s the general feeling?
On the good side of things, they’re 11-8 and in first place after 19 games against what’s generally considered the best division in baseball. If you had told me before the season they’d be where they are at this point, I certainly would have taken it. Yesterday’s meltdown aside, the bullpen has been very good. Even with yesterday, the bullpen’s ERA is 2.87. I don’t know if this is a credit to Melvin or not, but if you look at the pitchers in the bullpen sorted by ERA, it’s almost exactly opposite the order if were to sort them by innings pitched — in other words, the guys who have pitched the most innings have the lowest ERAs, led by Hasegawa’s 13 1/3 IP and 0.00 ERA. As for the starters, they’ve pitched pretty much like you might have expected…
Garcia: Flashes of brilliance, flashes of being awful
Moyer: Brilliant at times, human at others but still good
Pineiro: Unexpectedly struggling with walks, but still solid
Franklin: Six innings per start, ERA of 4.21… that was an easy call
Meche: The jury is still out on this one
Offensively, Edgar is still mashing, Boone has turned things around after a slow start and Guillen is teasing us yet again with a hot start. Outside of those three, pretty much the rest of the offense is asleep. Starting at the top…
Ichiro: Hitting .260, has no power, has only stolen three bases and doesn’t seem to be that dynamic presence at the top of the batting order any more. On the plus side, he’s drawn nine walks.
Winn: Looked good for a week or so there, then got home to Safeco and bombed like we all hoped wouldn’t happen. Still, he’s drawing walks and has as respectable .373 OBP to show for it. Also no power, and not stealing bases either.
Boone: .303/.398/.566 — this is as good as it gets, so enjoy it while it lasts. Drawing walks at a good clip.
Edgar: We all know what he can do when healthy.
Olerud: I have a feeling we’re looking at a 2000 Olerud rather than a 2001-2002 Olerud, with the difference there being some power.
Cameron: I love the guy, but there’s no way they should re-sign him after the season barring something major happening. It’s looking more an more like 2001 was his peak, not the establishment of a new level of performance.
Cirillo: “Help, I’m awful.”
Guillen: I’d love to get excited about this hot start, but he did the same thing last year. Tease.
Wilson: See Cirillo, just not quite so much.
The bench, a supposed strength, has not been one so far. Part of this has been Melvin’s strange usage habits, but they’re just not hitting, either. McLemore, Davis, Mabry, Bloomquist and Colbrunn are a combined 24-for-117 (.205).
We should be happy, though, right? I mean, despite all these offensive woes and two big question marks in the rotation, they’re in first place at the season’s first real milepost.
Minor League Highlights for Sunday, April 21
Las Vegas 7, Tacoma 4. Perhaps blinded by the bright lights of Sin City (“Vegas baby, VEGAS!”) the Rainiers dropped this one despite getting homers from DH Pat Borders and 1B Craig Kuzmic. RHP Rafael Soriano allowed eight hits in six innings (4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K), and Tacoma’s late comeback attempt was rendered moot when RHP Allan Simpson (1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K) allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth. 3B Luis Figueroa had two more hits, raising his season average to a robust .353.
San Antonio 4, Midland 3. RHP Rett Johnson (5 1/3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) wasn’t great, but left the game with a 4-3 lead which was held up by his bullpen. RHPs Josue Matos (2 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K) and Craig House (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K) combined to close things out, with the latter picking up his first save of the season. House, a former closer prospect with the Rockies, has fallen off the radar screen in the past year or so due to injuries and is trying to work his way back. CF Michael Curry had two hits for the Missions and 1B AJ Zapp drove in three runs.
Rancho Cucamonga 4, Inland Empire 1. The 66ers managed just four hits in the game, finding themselves shut down by a pretty good prospect in Ervin Santana, with their only run coming on LF Phillip Willingham’s first homer of the season. Before that homer, Santana was tossing a one-hit shutout. RHP Emiliano Fruto lasted just 3 1/3 innings (3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K) though RHP Glenn Bott turned in a nice relief apperance (3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K). Having played each other ten times in the past 15 days, the two teams should be happy to face new opponents beginning today.
Cedar Rapids 15, Wisconsin 8. On a day when none of the Timber Rattlers’ three pitchers were effective, the highlight was 2B Tim Merritt, who was just a double short of the cycle. Merritt had three hits in four trips including his first homer of the year, drove in two and scored three times. RF TJ Bohn also had three hits, including two doubles, and SS Michael Garciaparra had a pair of singles. The other good news is that 1B Jon Nelson drew a walk, his fourth of the season. The bad news is on the pitching side, where starter RHP Beau Hintz (4 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) was the worst of the lot. We’ll just leave it at that.
“Melvin seems reluctant to pinch-hit even for the weakest members of the lineup if it means he loses bench flexibility”
Besides Greg Colbrunn, who Melvin seems unwilling to use regardless of the situation, who would you like to see him have pinch-hit more often? There’s not much of a difference between Cirillo and McLemore at the plate, but the difference in the field is huge. I’d prefer to never see McLemore play the infield again. Mabry’s a worse hitter than just about everyone in the line-up, and he’s a defensive slug, so I don’t see any real value in using him late in games. The defensive downgrades he takes by removing Cirillo from the game aren’t worth the marginal upgrades in offense in most cases. Now, if Bob was actually willing to use Colbrunn, I’d agree with you. But I don’t think we have any idea why Melvin has relegated Colbrunn to 25th man, and I’d guess its probably not fear of bench flexibility.
I have a brief side note — Jon Rauch, who is competing with Meche for the dubious “first to come back from labrum surgery” award, is now 2-0 in 3 starts in Charlotte, with a 2.00 ERA, and in 18 IP has allowed 13 H, 4 BB, and struck out 15. Of total batters faced (67), that’s 19% H, 22% K, 6% bb. I have to think if Garland continues to falter Rauch won’t be long for AAA… except that there may be team/attitude-type issues.
Meche, meanwhile, has pitched 16.2, a 4.86 ERA, 18 H, 5 BB, and 17 K. As K or BB/9, he’s faced 73 batters… which makes for 24% H, 23% K, 7% bb. Almost eerily similar, isn’t it? Okay, not so much. Both are 24. Rauch is what, 20’4″ (6’10”, I think), while Meche is 6’3″. They throw different stuff. Meche has had two different surgeries, Rauch one. Rauch appeared towards the end of last year to have his stuff back, while Meche was (as Dave reminded me when I mixed them up) being booed off the mound in San Antonio. Still, no one really knows what it looks like for a pitcher to recover completely from a labrum tear, or how long it really takes: the first of these guys to return to their former selves will be the first.
Also, on playing for ties: my feeling is that if you’re the home team and you’ve got the chance to win the game in the bottom of an inning — when blowing your bench into the game has an excellent chance of winning it, which means those guys don’t have to take the field at all — you should absolutely do it. Melvin seems reluctant to pinch-hit even for the weakest members of the lineup if it means he loses bench flexibility, which exists to allow him to pinch-hit for the weakest members of his lineup.