Game 34, Mariners at Pirates
Aaron Harang vs.
James McDonald Jeanmar Gomez, 4:05pm
There are rivals, interleague “natural” rivals, and then there are teams like the Pirates, who exist solely on the ESPN crawl, in 1979-Pops-Stargell highlights, and old Barry Bonds baseball cards. I know about them – I know some of their players, I know their new ballpark looks gorgeous, know all about their 20-year plan for a winning season, and about the new-school front office that was going to instill a new culture and build a sustainable winner within 5 years. But I just don’t think about them. It’s harder and harder for teams to exist like this. With so much coverage, and with mlb.tv, mlb network, etc., you’re going to hear about it when Andrew McCutchen develops into a star. As a kid, I was fascinated by the Montreal Expos and their ‘other’ness. Their radio announcers spoke French. Their pitchers hit. They had all of these stars (the had a *catcher* who could seriously hit. Not just “not bad for a catcher” but real, actual hitting. This was more bizarre to me than the French thing, honestly) who existed in This Week in Baseball highlights and as All-Star Game ringers, but I had no sense of them as a team. That’s the Pirates for me now.*
Righty James McDonald starts tonight’s game. He’s a fastball/curve/slider pitcher who’s never quite put it all together. At one point, he had an above average fastball and a decent curve, and who looked like he could become a #3 in the Pirates rotation. He started experimenting with a slider, and got incredible results with it, so he used it as his two-strike outpitch in 2012 and raced off to a brilliant first half. Then, just as suddenly, he collapsed again. His first-half FIP of 3.00 turned into a second-half FIP of 6.37 and he was back to being the same old frustrating #4/5 starter on a below-.500 team. It’s fascinating, because his slider still got good results, even in 2012. His curve was solid too, even when hitters put it in play in the second half. His problem seemed to be that he couldn’t get into those two-strike counts, and when he’s behind, he relies heavily on his four-seam fastball. It’s a perfectly understandable, perfectly rational approach that 80% of MLB pitchers use, but it’s not working for McDonald.
Aaand now it would appear that McDonald’s been scratched and put on the 15-day DL. Huh. Taking his place is righty Jeanmar Gomez, a sinker-slider guy with a change-up against lefties. Gomez is a pitch-to-contact, groundball guy who came over from the Indians organization. He doesn’t miss many bats, has poor control, and a bit of a home run problem. If that sounds like a replacement-level starter, you’re dead on. He’s pitched about one full season over the course of his career with a FIP of about 5, good for 0.1 WAR. It’s a bit surprising that his platoon splits aren’t higher, considering his repertoire and arm-angle, but it’s just that he’s been bad against righties and lefties alike. The M’s start Aaron Harang tonight, so it’s not like this is a total mismatch on paper, but this is a game the M’s need to win. The Pirates aren’t a bad team, and they’re playing at home, but the M’s caught a break, and they should capitalize. To add to the Pirates problems, catcher/pitch-framer Russell Martin’s out with a neck injury, so the M’s get to face a B-team battery.
1: Saunders, CF
2: Bay, LF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morse, RF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Ackley, 2B
7: Shoppach, C
8: Ryan, SS
9: Harang, SP
No Morales, as the M’s lose the DH. We’ll see how many starts Morales gets at 1B in NL stadiums this year.
Reigning PCL pitcher of the week Jeremy Bonderman takes the hill for Tacoma in Oklahoma City today, and Roenis Elias leads Jackson against Huntsville.
The Rainiers won the final game of their homestand behind Andrew Carraway and homers from Corey Patterson and Carlos Peguero. Victor Sanchez lost his first decision of the year yesterday, but is still pitching beyond his years in full-season ball.
* First thing I thought of when I thought about the Pirates just now: this game. The game in Safeco when Jeff Weaver shut out the Pirates on four hits, despite coming into the game with an ERA over 10, and 0-6 record, one DL trip for “tendinitis”, and generally being the worst pitcher in the league up to that point.