Game 13, Astros at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Asher Wojchichowski, 7:10pm
Baseball seasons are famously long and grinding, and it’s difficult to take time to really bask in a win like yesterday’s. What’s more, since you can’t predict baseball and all that, you can’t see them coming – you just have to stick it out, through 12-0 drubbings, and 6-3 losses you’ve forgotten before they end. You stick it out and suddenly you get a game with Willie Bloomquist starting at SS, a game in which the team is down 5 to Ross Detwiler and down 5 again to the Ranger bullpen that becomes something you’ll remember for years. I will be in line at a market, and I will think about Cruz’s reaction to the walk-off hit, and I will conveniently excise the 3rd inning and feel slightly happier. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s pretty great. That, nice weather, beer, tradition, cultural norms, etc. are why we follow the game religiously. Felix, too, of course.
Today’s game doesn’t look all too promising, but it might look better on paper than yesterday’s, and look what happened! Asher Wojciechowski is a right-hander who was a supplemental-1st round pick of the Blue Jays in 2010. The Jays reworked his delivery with spotty results, and finally sent him to Houston in a July 2010 deal that’s been characterized as the most boring ten-player trade ever. The headliner, I suppose, was JA Happ, and the return was six fair-to-middling prospects to add depth to an Astros system still hollowed out by the last few Ed Wade years. Nobody Houston received was a clear blue-chip player – this was the exception proving the rule that you can’t just add more so-so players to make a deal appealing – but Wojchiechowski had that first-round pedigree and some initial success in the lower levels of the Jays system. The only other prospect in that deal with a strong shot at the majors was David Rollins, the guy the M’s selected in this year’s Rule 5 draft and who’d be in the bullpen now if it wasn’t for a PED suspension.
Before the trade, Wojciechowski was probably best known for his peripatetic childhood, as his missionary parents moved from state to state, and also briefly to the Dominican Republic before spending Asher’s little league years in Bucharest, Romania. Luckily, Bucharest somehow had a little league team. After spending several years in Michigan, the family moved to the southeast for his final year of high school to help the recruiting process. Wojo’s got prototypical size at 6’4″ 235lbs, and he rewarded Houston initially with a stand-out 2013, faring reasonably well in the PCL after a quick stop in AA. Unfortunately, his 2014 was marred by a bad lat strain – the kind of injury that nuked ex-M’s reliever Stephen Pryor’s 2013, and that sidelined James Paxton last year as well. When Wojciechowski returned, he was mediocre, giving up 89 hits and 46 runs in 76 PCL innings.
Now fully healed, he made the Astros rotation as the 5th starter, though he’s made just one start and one relief appearance to date. His fastball’s completely unremarkable – a four-seamer at 91 with average rise and horizontal run. He also throws a change-up and a slider, and I’ll be damned if I can find anything to say about them. To date, Wojciechowski has found it extremely difficult to get MLB hitters to swing and miss at any of his pitches, which makes his 6 Ks in 8 IP all the more impressive. We don’t have much info to go on, but the thing that jumped off the page to me was his extremely low GB rate. He doesn’t throw a sinker, and his fastball doesn’t have much natural sink, so I wondered if it was a fluke. Probably not – he’s posted very low ratios in the upper minors as well. The key is how he uses his pitches. He seems to like keeping his fastball up, preferring to miss up and out of the zone than to try to target the (expanding) lower reaches of the zone. We’ve talked about this approach in recent years, thanks to high-strike maven Chris Young’s 2014 and Trevor Bauer’s twitter rants against the “aim for the knees” doctrine. It’s true – you can get lots of whiffs, infield pop-ups and a lower BABIP if you can reliably pull off the high strike. The problem, of course, is what happens if you can’t reliably pull it off. He’s had two four-inning appearances this season. In the first, he surrendered two HRs to the Indians. In the second, he avoided mistakes and struck out 4 without giving up a run. We’ll see how good the righty’s command is tonight against an M’s line-up that’s probably feeling a bit better about itself after yesterday’s 11-run barrage.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, DH
7: Zunino, C
8: Morrison, 1B
9: Miller, SS
Six lefties against Wojo, who struggled with lefties in his minor league career. Nicely done.
The Rainiers look for their first home win tonight against El Paso, with Roenis Elias on the hill. His first outing against the Chihuahuas was not…good, but he’s got another shot, and this time he’ll face them in a pitcher’s park. The park didn’t help Jordan Pries yesterday, as he coughed up a 5 run lead thanks to a 5 run 5th that ended his day. Joe Saunders gave up four runs in relief, and that was essentially that. Franklin Gutierrez homered, and Julio Morban had two hits in his first game since being promoted from Jackson. Ketel Marte is hitting over .300 and he drew two walks yesterday, bringing his OBP over .350, which sounds great, until you see that his SLG% is just .326. It’s an encouraging start, but the ceiling still looks really low.
Jackson got rained out again on get-away day for the second straight time. They face the Tennessee Smokies today, with Misael Siverio facing Cubs reliever-turned-starter Frank Batista.
Bakersfield, coming off back to back shutouts of San Jose, handed the ball to ace Edwin Diaz yesterday, but the scoreless inning streak stopped pretty suddenly. Diaz just wasn’t sharp, giving up 4 R in 2 2/3 IP, but the offense bailed him out, as the Blaze won 10-7. Tyler O’Neill homered, which is great to see after the Canuck’s slow start. The Blaze face Stockton tonight, with Ryan Yarbrough opposing Dylan Covey, an A’s 4th rounder from 2013.
Clinton beat Beloit 9-4 thanks to three hits from Gianfranco Wawoe, a hit and two walks by Joe DeCarlo and a decent game from pitchers Jefferson Medina, Ryan Horstman, Rohn Pierce and Peter Miller. Horstman, the rare freshman-eligible collegiate player the M’s got from St. Johns, has been good in the early-going, with 8Ks and 2BBs in 6 scoreless innings. Clinton faces the Snappers again tonight with Daniel Missaki on the hill against Brett Graves – a rematch of the game on April 10th that the L-Kings lost 4-3.