Game 92, Twins at Mariners
Tom Wilhelmsen vs. Yohan Pino, 7:10pm
Depending on your point of view, this is either an interesting test of two teams pitching depth and the utility of team-wide splits, or perhaps the least major league-y MLB game of the season. Wilhelmsen and righty Yohan Pino were born ten days apart back in 1983, and have all of four major league starts between them. The former had famously retired from baseball for the life of a wanderer, bartender and itinerant dancer before breaking back into baseball thanks to elite arm strength and a plus curve ball. Pino came up in the Twins system, and had a couple of great statistical seasons as a reliever before being the PTBNL in the deal that brought Carl Pavano to the Twin Cities. Since then, he’s kicked around a number of organizations as a swing man, signing minor league free agent deals with Toronto, Cincinnati and finally Minnesota. Pino pitches around an 88-89mph fastball by throwing a lot of sliders, though he’s got a change-up he’ll throw to lefties and also the occasional curve.
Pino’s clearly not overpowering, and thankfully, he’s not even a ground baller. With last night’s loss, the M’s OPS against GB pitchers (the top 3rd in GB:FB ratio, as measured by bbref) this year is a woeful .572. The M’s are *slugging* .286 against them, and you might think that figure was a bit high after watching Kevin Correia and Kyle Gibson pitch against the M’s. Toss in the fact that Pino should have normal platoon splits thanks to the fact his best pitch is a slider, and you’ve got to like the match-up for the M’s and their lefty-heavy line-up. But while it looks good on paper, the M’s have underwhelmed in games started by unfamiliar pitchers – Colin McHugh’s debut is the best example, but Robbie Ross’ start in April, Drew Pomeranz’s start for the A’s in May, Jake Odorizzi about a week later. This isn’t scientific, and I may just be noticing it more. And hey, Kyle Gibson got knocked around by the M’s last season before dominating them this season. But the M’s are not an offensive juggernaut in Safeco, and they don’t yet know Pino’s approach. It may take them a while to solve whatever mystery there is a straight 89mph four-seam fastball. Hopefully not too long, though.
Wilhelmsen’s size, durability and pitch mix make him a natural candidate to start. After breaking camp with the M’s in 2011, he was sent down in May and resumed work as a starter for AA Jackson. As Wilhelmsen’s acknowledged, the results weren’t there, and when he returned to the big club in August, it was as a reliever. After what looked like a breakout in 2012, he started 2013 as the team’s closer, only to lose his hold on that role and then on his 25-man spot in August. Interestingly, the team had him start when he first joined the Rainiers. In his first start,* he went two innings, giving up three runs including two dingers to an Iowa Cubs line-up that…well, it’s no 2014 Iowa Cubs line-up. He then had a brilliant relief outing behind Taijuan Walker, and then made his second start at Round Rock. This time, he didn’t quite make it two innings, yielding three runs on two hits and three walks against no K’s. The M’s pulled the plug on the Wilhelmsen-as-starter experiment then, and while it didn’t solve everything – he was still hittable and had a poor RA – his K:BB ratio got a bit better. Wilhelmsen-as-starter *should* work. There’s not really a physical reason why it wouldn’t. But while the sample size is tiny, it’s also uniformly bad, at least in the upper minors. That’s not to say Wilhelmsen’s a lock to get knocked around; he wasn’t great as a *reliever* in Tacoma last year, and that hasn’t stopped him from posting a great season thus far in the American League. It’s just an odd record that’s so easy to fill in with conjecture (“He’s not mentally tough enough/he lacks confidence!”), but we’re better off avoiding that and hoping tonight’s spot start goes well.
1: Chavez, LF
2: Jones, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Hart, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Bloomquist, SS
SP: Tom Wilhelmsen
The M’s bolstered their bullpen yet again today by swapping out Stephen Pryor for lefty Lucas Luetge. It’s tough to blame Pryor for a rough outing, considering it was his first big league game in over a year, and of course he wasn’t helped by the two-run error on 1B Logan Morrison, but his FB averaged 92 and he didn’t have pinpoint command.
It’s good to see Kurt Suzuki in the line-up for Twins, because the alternative would’ve meant pairing Pino with Eric Fryer. Pino and whatever you get out of Fryer just sounds like a very Minnesota thing to do, somehow. If you’re serious about pairings, of course, you move Pino to Anaheim where he could team up with Grilli and Trout, or perhaps the Marlins and Jeff Baker, but…OK, I’m done. Sorry.
Minor leaguers starting for M’s affiliates include Jimmy Gilheeney, Tyler Olson, Scott DeCecco, Blake Holovach and Jefferson Medina.
* The pitcher who relieved Wilhelmsen in that game was James Paxton, who also got knocked around. Paxton was about two weeks from turning into JAMES F@#%ING PAXTON, but was still frustratingly inconsistent and hittable. Wilhelmsen got hit pretty hard himself in AAA only to return to the big leagues again and pitch effectively. You can’t point to coaching as the decisive factor, but in a roughly two week period, the Tacoma Rainiers turned TWO strong-armed-but-frustrating hurlers into effective big leaguers. Again, there are a number of factors that go into some lesson “clicking” for a pitcher, and it may have had nothing to do with any instruction they got, but I am really, really curious what advice the two got last August.