Cactus League Game 13, Dodgers at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Clayton Kershaw, 1:05pm, Root TV, 710 radio
While Taijuan Walker wasn’t all that sharp yesterday, he managed to put up more zeroes. Roenis Elias may be competing for a bullpen spot at this point, given McClendon’s preference to have multiple lefties in the pen. With Elias’ durability and decent results against righties, he could function as the long reliever as well. Of course, the M’s may want him working regularly in AAA, a level he’s still never played in.
Today, he’ll face something pretty close to the Dodgers opening day line-up, and he’ll be opposed by the Dodgers opening day pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. The Cy Young/MVP winner is a fascinating pitcher. He came up as almost a two-pitch guy, with a big fastball and a curve. He was wild, but had great raw stuff, and that was enough for a while. Over time, he added a change and slider, but his run of dominance started when he essentially started throwing the fastball and slider to both lefties and righties. The curve is a good change of pace, but Kershaw’s greatly improved command allows him to use location to attack opposite-handed hitters and not worry too much about the pitch type. Last year, he threw lefties 28% sliders. To righties, it was 29%. Curve ball? 13% and 15%, respectively. There’s essentially no difference in pitch mix, but he’s able to put all of his pitches in tough spots to hit. He moves his fastball all over the strikezone; he’ll get whiffs above the zone, and he’ll also throw them down and in to righties to get weak contact. The most interesting evolution for Kershaw has been his development into a ground ball pitcher. He almost never throws a sinker, and his four-seam has tons of vertical rise, but more than half of all balls in play on it have been ground balls. As I’ve talked about, pretty much the only other pitcher whose FB works this way is James Paxton, the guy who consciously modeled himself on Kershaw. It’s still something I’d like to understand better – how does a rising FB, even when it’s thrown up in the zone, generate ground ball contact?
Good luck, M’s:
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ruggiano, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Weeks, DH
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Peterson, 3B
9: Marte, SS
Danny Hultzen was among the first cuts today, as 11 players were shipped to minor league camp. Not a surprise, frankly, though his progress is still very encouraging. Apparently, the M’s will start his season in a warm-weather climate, so don’t look for him in Tacoma to start. If everything goes well, we could see him in the PCL at some point.