Game 106, Blue Jays at Mariners
Jason Vargas, yes, Jason Vargas vs. Aaron Laffey, 7:10pm
So Vargas is still here. How about that? Hopefully he learned something watching Hisashi Iwakuma carve through this line up last night, and he’ll keep the Jays off-balance. Opposing him is ex-Mariner reliever, Aaron Laffey, who is essentially a poor man’s Vargas. A slow fastball (less velocity than Vargas), a slider/cutter and a change-up. While the M’s saw Laffey as a left-on-left reliever (essentially seeing his slider as his out pitch), the Jays have been forced to use Laffey as a starter (where he’s been forced to use his change-up against righties). None of his pitches match Vargas’ offerings, so it’s not surprising to see Laffey put up a 4.76 FIP. He’s got a decent ERA thanks to a very low BABIP and a correspondingly high strand rate, but this is Aaron Laffey here.
To his credit, Laffey’s cut his walk rate thus far in 2012, and that’s helped him pitch around 7 home runs in less than 45 innings. But even that seems somewhat strange, given that he’s actually throwing more balls than he did last season, and his first-strike percentage is down accordingly. That said, he appears to have picked up a cutter this year, and it’s suddenly the pitch he throws the most (according to Brooksbaseball; MLB Gameday and BIS all show that he picked up the cutter this year, but they vary on how often he throws it). The sample is laughably small, but he’s able to throw it for strikes (far more than his fastball), it gets a decent number of whiffs (which, if you’re Aaron Laffey, must seem like magic), and it generates ground balls. It’s not some miracle pitch; he’s given up some HRs on it, and it’s still just an 85-87mph pseudo-fastball, but it’s different. This pitch – even more than his change-up – seems to be the key to surviving against righties in the rotation.
Today’s line-up – the M’s start five right-handed batters tonight against the lefty Laffey, and the M’s go for their sixth straight win against a lefty.
2: Wells (RF)
3: Saunders (CF)
4: Montero (DH)
7: Olivo (C)
SP: Jason Vargas is ours, (would you like our Jason Vargas? No really, you don’t want him? No? Last chance here…) and you can’t have him.
Danny Hultzen’s still not dominating the PCL the way many expected, and now the M’s are going to limit his innings going forward. Ryan Divish spoke to Jack Zduriencik who’s given the directive to the Rainiers and minor league pitching coordinator Rick Waits: fewer innings, fewer starts, fewer pitches in his starts and fewer pitches between starts. This seems like a good move to me, as something’s just not right with Hultzen. Command issues aside, we haven’t seen really good stuff on a consistent basis; the change-up looks like a plus pitch intermittently, while fastball command has been more “off” than “on” since moving up from AA Jackson. This would seem to put an end to any talk of Hultzen getting a cup of coffee in September. Again: that’s probably a good thing. There’s no sense in using him in a high-pressure game (and his first MLB experience will be high-pressure by default) at the end of his longest season by far in the midst of command problems. Shut it down, and work with him in the winter.
(Incidentally, for a guy who’s nominal beat is covering the Huskies, Divish is absolutely killing it on M’s news these days.)
Big night in the system as Taijuan Walker starts for Jackson, and new guy DJ Mitchell pitches for Tacoma at Tucson. Even newer-guy Leon Landry may make his system debut for High Desert at Lake Elsinore, and Logan Bawcom could relieve Walker in Birmingham.