Game 14, Rangers at Mariners
Brandon Maurer vs. Nick Tepesch, 1:10pm
The M’s head into their first off-day of the season needing a win to get a split and avoid dropping three straight series losses. Brandon Maurer’s shouldering a bit more pressure than his teammates, as he’s got to know he can’t have a repeat of his 2/3 of an inning performance against Houston. As many have mentioned, Danny Hultzen’s in the same spot in the rotation just 30 miles away; Hultzen will start today against Salt Lake in Tacoma in what amounts to another job interview. He wouldn’t accrue a full year of service time if he was brought up soon, and while the M’s don’t want to yank Maurer out of the rotation so quickly, *2/3 of an inning, at home, against the Astros.*
What’s his problem been? I have to say I’m a bit surprised it’s gone as poorly as it has, but there are some issues he could conceivably work on. First, his release point is all over the place. It doesn’t look too bad averaged, but his fastball release point can vary by over 6″ within a single at-bat. During the spring, I was worried that he had a decidedly lower/more towards third base release for his slider and change. It was subtle, but MLB hitters are selected in part on their ability to detect and interpret information like that. From what I can tell, that hasn’t been a big problem in his first two starts. Instead, he’s all over the place with all of his pitches. Maybe there’s a theoretical benefit to that, but given he’s had clear problems putting his pitches where he wants them, any gains in batter confusion remain hypothetical for Maurer.
The other issue is pitch sequencing. In his second game, Maurer fell into a pattern of throwing his slider (or the change, in Pena’s case) for his 3rd pitch of an AB. It may have been nothing, or just coincidence, given that he didn’t get through an inning, but he and his catcher should mix things up a bit more. Part of that may be throwing more fastballs. In his first game, he threw fastballs in a minority of his pitches. You can’t really take anything from his second start, but he’s clearly attempting a mix that’s not all that common. Madison Bumgarner of SF is probably the most successful pitcher to rely on his slider so much, but given how rudely MLB hitters have treated Maurer’s, maybe it’s time to use that pitch in a different way. More than anything, he’s just got to avoid hanging it. Even with two strikes, he’s had lapses where he leaves a slider up and out over the plate. That can’t continue today.
The Rangers start their *other* out-of-nowhere back of the rotation rookie, Nick Tepesch. Justin Grimm fared reasonably well in the Rangers win over King Felix, so the Rangers will hand the ball to another unheralded right-hander in Tepesch. Tepesch was a 14th round pick in 2010 after an up-and-down college career at Missouri (sounds a lot like Grimm so far), and though his draft position doesn’t reflect his talent (he signed over-slot), he was clearly a little lost in college, giving up 250 hits and 147 runs in 213 innings. As a pro, he’s used solid command of a fastball, curve and slider/cutter to limit walks and runs. The fastball isn’t great, averaging around 91 MPH, but he gets good sink on his two-seam/sinker, resulting in good ground ball rates.
He tends to use the sinker more to lefties and saves his straight-as-an-arrow four-seamer for righties, which is a bit odd, but hey, he’s the 14th rounder who’s already in the majors. He’s had issues with long balls here and there, and righties have actually hit more of them on a rate basis. He balances that with a better K:B ratio, so on balance, his splits are pretty standard.
The M’s line-up:
1: Chavez, CF
2: Bay, RF
3: Morales, DH
4: Ibanez, LF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Montero, C
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Andino, SS
SP: Maurer. C’mon kid.
Hmm, still no Gutierrez.
I’ll be at the Rainiers game watching Hultzen; game time is 1:30. Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Jackson, and Matt Anderson will start for Clinton. Trevor Miller goes for High Desert.