Game 76, Athletics at Mariners
Jason Vargas vs. Travis Blackley, 7:10pm
Ah, Travis Blackley. It seems like it was only yesterday when the young Aussie left-hander made his debut with the 2004 Mariners. He’d torn up the Texas League in 2003 (at age 20), with a sparkling ERA and impressive strikeout totals for a guy whose fastball was basically 89-90.
He struggled a bit with his command in Tacoma, and his strikeout rate was down, but holy crap the 2004 M’s were terrible. It was one of Jamie Moyer’s worst years in Seattle, the year Joel Pineiro went from “phenom” to “problem.” All told, the M’s, playing in Safeco, gave up 5.1 runs per game. When the M’s traded Fredy Garcia, they brought up Blackley who’d been excellent in his first few months of AAA. We all remember what happened next – 26 terrible innings, followed by a demotion and another month or two of bad AAA performance followed by a shoulder injury that developed into a torn labrum. After rehab, he made a few appearances in the M’s system before being released and picked up by San Francisco. After 2007, he’s pitched almost anywhere people are paid to pitch baseballs, from Australia to Korea to :shudder: Reno. After being out of affiliated ball in 2011, he started off the season pitching like his 21-year old self for Fresno and earned a call-up with the Giants. A few games later, he was cut and then picked up by the A’s, who didn’t necessarily have a place for him, but it had been a few days since they’d made a roster move and Billy Beane needed a fix bad.
Blackley’s still got the same 89-91 mph fastball, though he’s using a two-seamer now to good effect. Always a fly-ball pitcher with the M’s, he’s got a 50% ground ball rate now with the A’s. His slow curve ball’s still there, though it’s never really been a great pitch. His change-up is his best pitch in terms of generating whiffs and grounders, so that’s something the M’s right-handers should look for (he’s thrown zero to lefties). The two-seamer’s helped his HR problems, and he’s also greatly improved his command somehow. He’s coming off of his best performance as a major leaguer, an 8IP no decision in which he essentially matched Clayton Kershaw pitch for pitch (OK, it’s more like he functioned as a slow-motion replay of each Clayton Kershaw pitch), finishing with 3 hits allowed, 1 run, 6 Ks to no walks. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care, as an old Travis Blackley signed baseball sits on my desk. *
Jason Vargas gets to pitch at home and not Arizona, which is a positive, but I’d love to see some sign that he’s tweaked his delivery or is able to pitch down in the zone again. I’ve been worried with Vargas’ slide these past few months, and tonight would be a nice night to stop it.
1: Ichiro (DH)
2: Gutierrez (CF)
3: Seager (3B)
4: Montero (C)
5: Smoak (1B)
6: Saunders (LF)
7: Wells (RF)
8: Ackley (2B)
9: Ryan (SS)
SP: Jason Vargas
* It sits next to Bobby Madritsch and Chris Snelling signed baseballs. It is officially the saddest of all possible desks.