Game 2: Padres at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Andrew Cashner, 12:05pm, Root TV/710am
One game in, and the M’s suffered their first serious injury, as 1B Ji-Man Choi broke his fibula trying to snare an errant throw from SS Tyler Smith. Choi’s been beset by serious injuries for years, but I don’t think even Chris Snelling would’ve broken a fibula by jumping.* It’s a reminder that 1) health is a tool, and 2) baseball is relentless in the way that it exposes every bodily weakness and exploits them. Franklin Gutierrez knows the feeling. Get well soon, Ji-Man.
Today’s game features something quite like the opening day line-up and the other candidate for the 5th starter job, Roenis Elias. Taijuan Walker had a solid start against the Padres, and Ryan Divish had a good story about his mechanics (simplified, and using the stretch even without men on) and his improving split-change. The M’s face big righty Andrew Cashner, still one of the hardest-throwing starters in the league, though not quite the 99mph monster he was when he first moved from the Cubs to the Padres. At that time, he relied on his huge four-seamer, and paired it with a slider and change-up. Since then, he’s switched to a still-plenty-fast sinker as his primary fastball. Despite the radar gun readings, Cashner struggled both with his control and, more recently (and surprisingly), with contact. Batters now make more contact against him than average, and thus his K rate’s been below average in the rotation. That said, he’s become an effective pitcher thanks to solid ground ball rates and some new-found control.
Against righties, he’s a essentially a pitch-to-contact sinkerball machine, with very low walk rates and sky-high ground ball rates. If you limit fly balls, and then have a home park that minimizes the damage that the occasional fly ball can do, you can be a pretty effective pitcher. In addition, his mid-upper 90s velocity means the contact he gives up is generally poorer than that yielded by a more traditional, late-period-Derek-Lowe style sinkerball hurler. It’s worth noting, though, that he’s very different against lefties. Against lefties, he’ll throw more change-ups and chase strikeouts, at the expense of some extra walks. Unlike righties, lefties tend to hit the ball in the air. Part of this is due to the way Cashner pitches them – a steady diet of sinkers away. That can produce opposite-field fly balls, and for whatever reason, lefties are able to elevate the few pitches that Cashner throws inside or up. The M’s will throw six lefty hitters at Cashner, so we’ll see if they’re able to drive the ball.
Roenis Elias was one of the best stories of camp last year, making the team out of nowhere thanks to a funky delivery and good velocity from the left side. Last year, the M’s seemed concerned about the lack of consistency in Elias’ release point. Against lefties, he’d drop way down at times, and stay upright against righties. So, we got a story or two about picking a release point and sticking with it near the end of March 2014, but there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence that Elias listened. Even late in the year, you’d see two or three distinct groupings for his pitches, and why not? He’d been far more effective than any of us thought possible, and his ability to neutralize lefties was a big part of the reason why. In this respect, he’s a lot like the Padres’ own Cuban 5th starter, righty Odrisamer Despaigne, who used several release angles and odd pitches to destroy righties in 2014.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
The Padres line-up includes Abe Almonte, the opening day CF for the M’s last year while Seth Smith was in the opening day line-up for the Friars in 2014.
* Snelling would’ve torn ligaments instead.