Game 4, Mariners at Athletics
Taijuan Walker vs. Drew Pomeranz, 7:05pm
After a disappointing opening series, the M’s head to Oakland to face a team that’s probably just as disappointed in THEIR opener. The A’s split a four-game series with the Rangers, and while Texas’ line-up includes big names like Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, they are a *bad* ballclub. A team with a DH whose OBP over the last 2 years and 700 PAs is under .300, a team with question marks in the rotation, and punctuation marks that don’t appear to be english in the bullpen. A team that was forecasted to compete for last place *before* Yu Darvish went down with TJ surgery just took 2 of 4 in Oakland, including yesterday’s 4-HR 10-1 drubbing. My point isn’t that Oakland is suddenly, shockingly bad, just as the M’s aren’t bad because they lost 2 of 3 at home. It’s early, and weird things happen. We should just be happy they happen to other teams/fanbases as well.
Today’s game is a big one, as this is the first real test of Taijuan Walker 2.0. The re-worked mechanics, the pitch adjustments, the confidence he must’ve gained after a spring in which no one could touch him – it’s all put to the test tonight in a pitcher-friendly park. Walker’s a pretty important piece to the M’s in that he can stabilize the rotation a bit, and let depth like Roenis Elias fill other spots as needed, and because his projections were low enough that even a good year from Walker can help pick up the other players who will underperform. As we’ve seen, Walker pitches from the stretch exclusively, and features a live fastball at around 96, a slow curve in the low 70s, and a good split-change around 90. His in-between slider/cutter (slutter?) also comes in at 90, and despite the talk about a change, it looks pretty similar to the pitch he featured in his first call-up back in 2013.
While it’s always tough to rely too much on spring pitch fx numbers thanks to Peoria’s odd calibration, it’s a good sign that despite using the stretch, Walker’s velocity was the same or *higher* than it was in the spring of 2013, when he still used a wind-up. It was higher in the spring than it was in his big league debut in Houston, and higher than his first September start last year. I’m tempted to say that his velocity’s improved the more time passes after his injury, but a lot of it must be conditioning and mechanics. It’ll be something to watch tonight in what I presume will be a chilly April night in Oakland. The A’s were a good team against righties last year with big lefty bats like Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, but Moss is in Cleveland and Reddick’s injured at the moment. Ben Zobrist is a switch hitter with very even splits, but other than that, Walker will only need to really be careful with Stephen Vogt. The A’s early struggles against righties don’t mean much, but with Reddick out and Ike Davis still playing like, well, Ike Davis, this isn’t a bad match-up for Walker.
Drew Pomeranz is a lefty who, like pretty much every other member of the club, remade himself after joining the A’s. He’d been a top draft pick of the Indians, moving to Colorado in the big Ubaldo Jimenez deal, but as a rising FB/curve ball hurler, he ran into problems in Coors field. He never really developed a change-up, and thus had trouble with right-handed hitters, and because of *that* faced line-ups stacked with right-handed hitters. Upon joining the A’s, he increased the use of his sinker dramatically. It was an afterthought in Colorado, but it’s an important part of his arsenal to righties now. That’s not to say he’s shelved the four-seamer – he’ll still throw it to righties, particularly after they’ve seen the two-seamer. The rising four-seamer probably also helps disguise his curve a bit. Whatever the reason, Pomeranz was suddenly very effective against righties last year, albeit in less than 70 IP as a swingman. The A’s are betting he can keep that up, and the M’s righty line-up will be a decent first test.
Last season, fully 1/4 of Pomeranz’s 20 appearances came against Seattle, and he had 16% of his total IP against the M’s. The M’s couldn’t figure him out, as he gave up 1 run in 11 IP against them, and walked nobody, despite occasional control problems against everyone else. The M’s have obviously re-tooled their line-up, and he’ll be facing Nelson Cruz and Rickie Weeks instead of Stefen Romero, John Buck and Cole Gillespie. That said, Nelson Cruz has fared poorly against curves in his career – he should look to get Pomeranz early, when he uses his sinker. In his career, Cruz is slugging .693 off the nearly 800 lefty sinkers he’s seen.
1: Weeks, LF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ruggiano, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Bloomquist, SS
The Rainiers dropped their opener in El Paso by a score of 11-4. Jordan Pries wasn’t sharp, and the relievers weren’t a whole lot better. Carlos Rivero opened the Rainiers account with a HR, but there’s not much more to say about the game. Abe Almonte went 5-5 for the home team, but Mike Curto kept things in perspective. Roenis Elias starts tonight against ex-Braves prospect Aaron Northcraft – game’s at 6:05, tune in to Curto or watch it on MiLB.tv.
Jackson shut-out Jacksonville 2-0 behind the pitching of Steven Landazuri and James Gilheeney. The game was scoreless into the 9th, but the Generals got two runs on RBIs by Gabby Guerrero and Jabari Henry. Today, Scott DeCecco starts against Jake Esch, which just sounds like a really affected way of saying jock itch.
The best prospect performance of the day belonged to Bakersfield RHP Edwin Diaz, who threw 5 scoreless innings with 8Ks against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The Blaze led 2-0 when Diaz left following a very minor league play – with a man on, Tyler Marlette singled, but the ball got past the OF, and after a relay throw went awry, Marlette had come all the way around to score. The Blaze bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, but given the way the lead was acquired, it’s tough to be too upset about it. Tonight, last year’s pop-up prospect Ryan Yarbrough starts against fringe Dodger prospect Zach Bird. Bird’s been very young for his leagues, and has prototypical size and athleticsm that he pairs with a FB that can touch 94-95. The potential there, but the results haven’t been as of yet, which is kind of a scary thing to think about as he makes his first foray into the California League.
Clinton was rained out yesterday, because of course they were. I lost count of their rain-outs last year, and it’s just really tough to see ANY minor league club lose two straight opening nights – it’s such an important night for revenue that teams are loathe to call a game, even in moderately heavy rain. Ah well, they’ll try and play tonight – they haven’t scheduled a double-header the way some of the other MWL clubs have. If it goes, Brazilian pitcher Daniel Missaki will take the hill against Brett Graves of the A’s org.