Game 151, Rangers at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Martin Perez, 7:10pm
It’s odd when you look forward to playing one of the better teams in baseball, but I’m pretty sick of playing the magical birds from Baltimore. Dave’s post on the in-game strategy is spot on, but it marked the second time in as many days that the M’s made completely bizarre moves in the late innings. Wedge hasn’t excelled in in-game strategy, but he also hasn’t been shockingly, aggressively bad either. Couple an entire series’ worth of ill-timed, ill-fated bunts, Jasoless pinch-hitting and the stolen base call, then add it to an errant pick-off throw that somehow didn’t hurt the Orioles after it plunked the first base coach in the gut and rolled back to the first basemen and the conclusion is clear: the Orioles are actually magic. The Rangers are merely excellent at baseball; the Orioles are excellent at conjuring and mind-control. No contest.
The Rangers come in on a high after two solid wins over their rivals, the Angels. They haven’t mathematically clinched anything, but the AL West race is essentially over. CoolStandings and Baseball Prospectus have the Rangers playoff odds at 99.9% and 100%, respectively. It’s in that context that the Rangers turn to 21-year old lefty Martin Perez, who replaces Scott Feldman and will make his 4th MLB start tonight. Perez has been a prospect so long, Baseball America may name its top 100 list after him. Despite great stuff – a good curve ball, a solid change-up, above average velocity – Perez tended to disappoint statistically, especially in the high minors. He seemed like a classic tools-prospect bust; a guy lingering on prospect lists out of inertia. This was especially true after his May start at Cheney Stadium in which he gave up 7 runs in two atrocious innings. At that point, his fastball was in the 89-92 range, and his change wasn’t good enough to fool minor-league righthanders.
Injuries forced him to the Rangers not long after, but I had him down in my own mind as the Rangers’ version of Carlos Triunfel, a prospect who was famous for being a prospect as opposed to someone who could help the big club win. Now, several months into his career as a bullpen lefty/spot starter, he’s been far better than I would have thought. He hasn’t been excellent, but his stuff’s better than it was, with 92-94mph fastballs and a better curve. In recent appearances, the velocity’s down a tad, but he’s still a far sight better than he was in May. He uses a four-seam fastball (primarily to lefties) and a two-seamer/sinker (to righties) both around 92-93mph, along with a curve in the 75mph range and a change-up at 83mph. Like many, he uses the change more to right-handers and uses the curve (and a rare slider) on lefties. The change isn’t actually his put-away pitch; he uses it more when he’s behind in the count. This may indicate that he’s more confident in his control with the pitch, as walks have been a problem for him for years.
Perez shows clear, persistent platoon splits, so the M’s need to get right-handers some at-bats tonight. Over the past two years in the minors, he put up a 3.29 FIP vs. lefties and a 4.42 FIP against righties. He’s walked more right-handed batters than he’s K’d, and his overall line would look worse if his BABIP regressed towards the mean, so this is a good match-up for someone like Casper Wells and Jesus Montero. Of course, Perez just faced the M’s a week ago and dominated them, so who knows. He faced a middle of the order on that day that included Seager, Jaso, Saunders and Thames, so that certainly helped.
Iwakuma’s looking to finish the season strong after a bad game against Oakland and mixed results in Texas last week. His velocity’s surprisingly unchanged for a pitcher coming off injury and pitching more frequently; his last start in Texas looked low, but the pitch fx velo numbers seem consistently low there. Still, this is a great test – playing a good line-up for the second time in as many weeks. He faced the Angels twice in about 3 weeks, and shut them out for 7 innings the second time, so it’s not like other teams automatically ‘book’ him. He’s a crafty pitcher who’s ability to learn from the hitters and adapt to them has been more impressive than his splitter.
4: Montero (DH)
7: Olivo (C)