Game 14, Astros at Mariners

marc w · April 21, 2015 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Taijuan Walker vs. Collin McHugh, 7:10pm

The M’s had an improbable comeback to beat the Rangers on Sunday, and then missed a great opportunity to gain some ground last night. Asher Wojchiechowski was predictably mediocre, and the M’s lefties (and Cruz) made him pay, but some shaky bullpen work and a lack of timely hits resulted in a loss. Today, the pitching match-up appears to be against them, as struggling Taijuan Walker faces Collin McHugh, the AAAA reject turned all-star level starter.

McHugh announced his rebirth as a bona fide MLB pitcher almost exactly a year ago today (it was April 22nd, to be precise) at Safeco Field. The righty was called up from AAA to make a start around three weeks in to the season. At that point, he’d made a handful of unexceptional starts for Oklahoma City, and he was a few months passed getting waived by the Colorado Rockies org after putting up 19 sub-replacement level innings for the big club. That night in Seattle, however, McHugh struck out 12, walked no one, and went 6 2/3 scoreless innings, yielding only 3 hits. He had his ups and downs, but finished 2014 with 3.2 fWAR in just 154+ IP; by ERA-based WAR, he was even better, at 4 full wins above replacement.

As Neil Weinberg talked about at Fangraphs recently, McHugh looked like a new pitcher right from that first start, even if that was the low point for the 2014 M’s – they were mired in a losing streak and looked god awful. But down the stretch, he changed again and became even more effective. Somewhere during the 2nd half, something clicked for McHugh, and both his walk rate and his home run rate fell markedly. It’s still only 300 batters faced, but every single component is different/better. He’s been effective in two starts thus far, so McHugh’s doing all he can to show that last season wasn’t a fluke (Matt Shoemaker, on the other hand…).

The first big change McHugh made last year was to develop better fastball command. By keeping the ball away from lefties, he started finding some success against southpaws for the first time in his brief big league career. But down the stretch, McHugh changed again, and began featuring his slider much, much more. At this point, McHugh is throwing fastballs less than 1/3 of the time. The pitch he throws most is his slider, at 40%. He’s also got a curve ball he throws 1/4 of the time versus lefties and 1/5 of the time to righties, and a change-up that he’ll go to infrequently to lefties. McHugh is the anti-Ross Detwiler, but he’s nearly as extreme. His approach looks most similar to Madison Bumgarner, another pitcher who makes liberal use of a slider to opposite-handed hitters, but even Bumgarner still throws 50% FBs (if you combine 4- and 2-seamers). The three pitchers most similar to McHugh’s approach last year were Francisco Liriano in Pittsburgh, Hiroki Kuroda in New York and Kevin Correia in the Twin Cities. This isn’t about creating a list of comps, and it’s not to suggest that McHugh will bounce out of the bigs the way Correia has, or that this is a late-career move, or anything like that. This observation is merely descriptive: McHugh has been incredibly successful of late, and McHugh’s approach is pretty unlike that of most other MLB starters.

Taijuan Walker is also at one end of the results distribution, unfortunately. Walker’s been hit hard repeatedly, and that’s got a lot of fans looking to the minors for help. Roenis Elias is on the 40-man, but he’s been shaky thus far. Jordan Pries was a good candidate to show up eventually, but he’d require a 40-man move and he’s been worse than Elias. The pitching depth in the system hasn’t been able to develop just yet – Danny Hultzen’s still in instructs, and a 40-man move this early feels like an overreactive response. Walker may be best off in MLB with Rick Waits working on both his fastball command and his mental approach to yielding a few hits, but that doesn’t mean his starts are practice games. The AL West is still tightly bunched, unlike, say, the NL East. That alone buys the M’s a bit of time. But that also means that the division is still just as tight as the predictions thought it’d be, and other teams reinforcements are already moving in (Garrett Richards in Anaheim, Josh Reddick in Oakland). Walker has some time, but not a ton of it.

1: Ackley, LF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
SP: Walker

Tacoma kicked the Chihuahuas last night by a score of 5-4. Roenis Elias still wasn’t sharp, going 5 IP with 7 hits and 4 runs allowed, but it was enough thanks to two 5th inning HRs, one from Chris Taylor and the other from Jesus Montero. Today, Sam Gaviglio gets the start against Carlos Hernandez of Albuquerque.

Jackson beat Tennessee 7-1 yesterday, as Misael Siverio was sharp over 5 2/3 IP, giving up 2 hits and 1 run (a HR by zaftig 1B prospect Dan Vogelbach). The Generals were held scoreless until the 7th, but they made up for lost time with Leon Landry notching 3 RBIs in his first game of the season. Stephen Landazuri makes his third start tonight; he’s yet to give up a run in 8 IP, though his last start was shortened to just 2 IP due to rain (they finished the game the next day).

Bakersfield started slow, but they’re on a bit of a roll now. They beat Stockton 5-1 yesterday behind prospect Ryan Yarbrough’s best start of the year – he went 6 scoreless, and didn’t walk anyone. That said, with just a single K, I’m starting to wonder about his bat-missing. It’s really early, of course, but Yarbrough shot up rankings by racking up 53 strikeouts (against just 4 walks!) in less than 39 IP for Everett. This year, he’s got 6 Ks (and 2 walks) in 16 IP. Something to watch, I suppose. And hey, Tyler O’Neill showed further signs of breaking out of an early slump with a triple, and Austin Wilson, who’d looked lost in the early going, went 2-4 with his first Cal League HR. Dan Altavila starts tonight against Stockton and their Aussie SP, Tim Atherton. Atherton was originally signed as an OF by Minnesota, and then released by both the Twins and Padres. He moved to the mound, and pitched well in the Australian league before the Twins signed him again, this time as a pitcher. Oakland then acquired him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

Daniel Missaki got hit fairly hard yesterday in Clinton’s loss to Beloit 7-5. Missaki K’d 7 in 5 IP, but also gave up 8 hits and 4 runs. Nick Kiel, of Everett’s Jackson HS and Bellevue College, pitched the final two frames in his first game action of 2015; Kiel was an 18th rounder last year and played in Peoria and Everett late in 2014. Today, Tyler Herb starts for Clinton against Kane County’s Jeferson Mejia, a D-Backs prospect who came from the Cubs org in the Miguel Montero deal. Mejia had a good year in the Arizona League last year, and while he got destroyed in his first class A start, he’s 6’7″, and probably bigger than his listed 195 – shades of Michael Pineda, a bit, or, for the pessimists, shades of Michael Ynoa.


35 Responses to “Game 14, Astros at Mariners”

  1. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 6:32 pm

    How is Montero looking so far in the minors?

  2. Notfromboise on April 21st, 2015 7:29 pm

    Nice to see Walker pitch himself out of a jam. Minor victories are still victories!

    Ackley hitting lead off is an interesting twist that i kinda like. Though I’d still like to see Ackley/Miller hitting 1-2 at some point and move Jackson down in the lineup.

    Sad to see Zunino in the nine hole, althought i can’t argue the logic. I do, however, have a long history of rooting for overmatched mariner catchers dating back to the Dave Valle days. Even when he dropped the price of beer in Seattle down below $2, i just wanted to see the poor guy smile more often instead. Of course, like Zunino, Valle was an excellent receiver with a touch of pop to the bat.

  3. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 7:45 pm

    NoMo please….

  4. WTF_Ms on April 21st, 2015 8:01 pm

    Wow. Another Camera call. Maybe replace the umps completely?

  5. californiamariner on April 21st, 2015 8:03 pm

    Kind of surprised they overturned that play at the plate. Might have been out but the replays were very inconclusive.

  6. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 8:04 pm

    That’s just our current luck Cali.

  7. mksh21 on April 21st, 2015 8:27 pm

    Would be nice to have a DH AND 1B who can hit. In the same season. Morrison ugh.

  8. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2015 8:31 pm

    Really going to hear more Morrison bashing tonight? He’s been BABIP’d to death, yet still has a 6 game hitting streak.

    If he was striking out like Zunino and failing to make decent contact, I’d be concerned. But he’s having mostly good PA’s.

  9. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 8:35 pm

    Steve, its because baseball is a game of results, and BABIP does not show up in box scores, so of course people are going to complain when someone does not put up visible results.

  10. mksh21 on April 21st, 2015 8:36 pm

    This place has been a ghost town this year so hadn’t seen any lol. I just don’t see the upside with him, I mean what’s the best case: slightly below average with him? Can do better than him and hopefully will sooner rather than later.

  11. mksh21 on April 21st, 2015 8:39 pm

    One way to fix a BABIP problem could be to put one over the fence once in your first 50 PA’s, especially from our 1st basemen.

  12. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2015 8:39 pm

    ^Try looking deeper than his immediate line. He had a pretty solid second half last season that showed his upside, which even his immediate line indicated.


    I wasn’t asking why we’re hearing it, I was asking if we were actually going to hear more πŸ˜›

  13. mksh21 on April 21st, 2015 8:46 pm

    lol, I loved him on the Marlins, thought he was gonna be a pretty big deal. Just hasn’t done much of anything since 2011. I know he’s been hurt, but hurt for 4 years becomes who you are. I’m fully aware of BABIP, but it would even out over 3.1 seasons at some point. There I said my Logan Morrison peace for the year πŸ™‚

  14. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 8:51 pm

    @steve the season just started we still have lots of games left to complain about players lol.

  15. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 8:52 pm

    my two biggest pet peeves in baseball are 1 pitch outs and called strike 3 (when the Mariners are batting of course)

  16. mksh21 on April 21st, 2015 8:58 pm

    Hope Walker can finish the 6th, but don’t know how many pitches they are gonna give him. What a relief though, missed his first two outings didn’t see what his issues were.

  17. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 8:59 pm

    His pitch count just climbed and climbed with every inning, to much dancing around the plate and not enough trying to go after hitters.

  18. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2015 9:04 pm

    Morrison never really had consistent playing time until the second half last season–and that wasn’t just because of injuries. Some of that had to do with the Marlin’s abundance of outfielders and his inability to play the outfield. He may have had better luck had they stuck him at 1B sooner.

    Prior to last season, he had mounted roughly 1500 inconsistent PA’s over 4 seasons. It’s fair to raise questions and voice some concern because of that, but the fact that he finished strong last season and had consistently great PA’s–and is still having good PA’s despite the slow start this season–should be enough reason to hold off on the criticism.

    For the record, I wanted to see Morneau brought in prior to last season, but I have no complaints with Morrison.

  19. stevemotivateir on April 21st, 2015 9:05 pm


    Zunino is fair game!

  20. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 9:28 pm

    Zunino….maybe one day.

  21. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 9:35 pm

    man we can not catch a break, seems something always has to get in the way of making things easy on us….Cano with the error ugh.

  22. Longgeorge1 on April 21st, 2015 9:39 pm

    Death by a thousand ( 3 anyway) papercuts

  23. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 9:42 pm

    meh good night, this is miserable.

  24. WTF_Ms on April 21st, 2015 9:44 pm

    This team cannot keep doing this. It seems that our offense is just barely keeping up, and the bullpen is blowing it. Something has to give, and shortly. It’s getting hard to watch.

  25. Longgeorge1 on April 21st, 2015 9:49 pm

    The past several years the M’s have proven you can not win enough to make the playoffs with just pitching. So far this year they are proving you just can’t win without pitching

  26. Jake on April 21st, 2015 9:52 pm

    Montero with another 2-4 night with Tacoma, and he’s hitting .360.

    Jesus is going to hit his way onto the big club. Does Morrison have an option?

  27. WTF_Ms on April 21st, 2015 9:54 pm

    Something has to happen. It’s not so much on the hitting. We’re giving up too many runs late. I may not be a pro scout, but that shouts bullpen problems???

  28. Grayfox3d on April 21st, 2015 9:55 pm

    Bullpen problems will only get worse with none of the starters besides Felix going further than the 5th inning.

  29. WTF_Ms on April 21st, 2015 10:00 pm

    At least Walker showed signs of improvement. Iwakuma however may be done unless he can throw a great game next time up. The bullpen needs to get it straight starting tomorrow, or I can see changes on the road trip.

  30. WTF_Ms on April 21st, 2015 10:11 pm

    Also, the best we can do is Justin Ruggiano in the 9th??? That’s our “go to the bench for hitting” guy???

  31. Eastside Crank on April 21st, 2015 11:17 pm

    As bad as the Mariners have played, the AL West stinks this year. There are no super teams and no team has gotten on a hot streak yet. The wild card spots are looking unlikely but it does not look like it will take even 85 wins for the AL West crown.

  32. djw on April 22nd, 2015 7:57 am

    Iwakuma however may be done unless he can throw a great game next time up.

    Really? A 3-4 WAR pitcher is “done” after 16 weak innings? In which is xFIP is under 4? Get a grip.

  33. Westside guy on April 22nd, 2015 10:15 am

    The pitchers have definitely been unlucky and inconsistent (except El Rey). But the fact that the team has the second-worst defense in the major leagues doesn’t exactly help the situation.

  34. eponymous coward on April 22nd, 2015 10:20 am

    Really? A 3-4 WAR pitcher is β€œdone” after 16 weak innings? In which is xFIP is under 4? Get a grip

    Well, 3-4 WAR pitchers grow on trees, dontcha know.

    I figure the bandwagon will still be here for people to climb up on when the team starts playing a little less unlucky.

    That being said, a bullpen that had an amazing year being a little more inconsistent, almost as if they are regressing a bit to a mean? Whooocouldanode? A C that gets rushed to the majors not having a clue about the strike zone? Shocking! Dumpster diving for a 1B doesn’t always work out? Inconceivable!

  35. LongDistance on April 22nd, 2015 12:45 pm

    Unbelievable. Having paid my dues watching this club, and having done my share of bitching and moaning, I can understand how this past week or so hasn’t been good entertainment, much less good baseball, especially for those fans who expected nirvana–given all the promo from this last winter.

    But… WTF. Eaton’s article in the Times, doing an effing POLL on who to ream.

    Last year, the debate turned in mid-year to whether the M’s would be a .500 team, and wouldn’t it be great to see that. And then, we got something even better than that.

    And, OK, blah-blah-woof-woof, the bullpen had an outstanding year compared with what we expected. But even if they regress, moves made this winter made up for that.

    Here’s my vote on that poll: Cram it.

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