Cactus League Game 21, Mariners at Padres
JA Happ vs. Andrew Cashner, 1:05pm
We’ve now settled into that period of the Cactus League where the novelty that people are actually playing baseball has worn off, and the routine has set in. JA Happ has made the rotation, and has been fairly solid thus far. We’ve already seen Andrew Cashner as well; if you like, you can brush up on the fireballing pitch-to-contact enigma here. So if we can’t talk about Happ/Cashner, what can we talk about? I’d *like* to talk about the improbability of yesteday’s opponent, Matt Shoemaker, but we’ll have plenty of opportunities to go into the black arts that led a PCL journeyman, sub-AAAA player to post a well-above average season last year and shut down the M’s again on Monday.
Instead, let’s focus on essentially the only remaining question involving the Mariners opening day line-up – who’s in the Bullpen? I know McClendon has said that he’s not really looking at the numbers when deciding between Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker for the fifth starter job, but there’s essentially no argument here that I can see – not even Kris Bryant-style service time shenanigans. Keeping Elias as a swingman, sort of like the A’s are considering with Barry Zito, could work, but it would deprive him of regular work and would also make it much harder for the M’s to keep LHP David Rollins. Rollins was the M’s Rule 5 pick from Houston, and has opened some eyes this spring, as we’ve said. Rollins’ velocity has been better than Elias, Tyler Olson, and some of the righties like Danny Farquhar – it’s essentially matched Wilhelmsen and Leone’s this spring. He’s walked no one in 8 IP, and while he’s a bit less of a pure lefty specialist than Olson, Furbush or even Elias could be, he’s got to be kept on the M’s 25 man roster or be returned to the Astros organization.
Losing a Rule 5 pick is not the end of the world. Losing Jose Flores in the spring or Kanekoa Teixeira didn’t much matter to the M’s. Still, Elias would seem to have more value to the M’s as starting pitching depth than as a long man out of the pen. And while Tyler Olson’s impressed in the spring, it wouldn’t hurt to have him start in Tacoma or make the move to the bullpen once and for all in the PCL and see how he handles the new role. With Rollins, the team doesn’t really have options. And while the M’s try and figure out how many lefties is enough, they need to take some steps to bolster a bullpen that was brilliant in 2014 but may be in line for some regression. Farquhar’s velocity is down substantially this spring, and while he’s typically been a slow starter (he averaged 92-93 in mid-March games last year), his four-seam velocity is down 3-4mph from 2013, and his fastball and cutter are down 2-3mph from last season. I’m not suggesting that Rollins is in line for a bullpen spot ahead of the M’s 2014 set-up man, but I am suggesting that the M’s need to keep as much talent within the organization as possible. They need to be able to shuffle people in and out as needed, and they need contributions from guys who won’t be on the opening day roster. It’s in that context that Rollins’ roster situation becomes more of a thumb on the scale, even just to see what they have for a month or two (as the M’s did with Teixeira).
1: Jackson, CF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, LF
9: Miller, SS