Game 34, Red Sox at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Joe Kelly, 7:10pm
Ah, the Red Sox. Some of my favorite memories of Safeco have come from games against the Red Sox, including a sweep-clinching victory in 2007 wherein Ryan Feierabend gave up about a dozen 390′ fly balls that Ichiro managed to track down. Of course, most memories of Red Sox series in Safeco aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. The Sox have been good, the M’s have been bad, and there are way, way too many people in Red Sox gear.
Last night’s game was a tough one. James Shields did indeed leave some pitches hanging, but with one exception, the M’s couldn’t quite barrel them up. A ball that Nelson Cruz fouled back early on and a Zunino miss on a high fastball stick out, but they were far from the only offenders. On the positive side, that’s another quality start for Tai Walker, who now needs to follow it up with several more.
Tonight’s contest features extremely hard throwing righty Joe Kelly, who the Sox picked up from St. Louis in the John Lackey deal. Kelly throws a sinker at around 96-97, and has a slider and curve as well. In the past, his change-up and four-seam fastball were afterthoughts, as he threw them once or twice a game. This year, though, the four-seam is now a major part of his arsenal, at about 1/4 of his pitches. Before 2015, Kelly was known as one of those confounding pitchers who throw incredibly hard and yet don’t get strikeouts and whiffs – he was a Henderson Alvarez type with a high GB% and not much else. At least Alvarez never walked anyone – Kelly’s walk rate’s pretty standard, or even a bit higher. Still, you can see how it’s supposed to work – pitch to contact, but have the velocity take the sting out of much of that contact. Ideally, you’d get a GB pitcher with better than average BABIP, or better than you’d expect given his batted ball profile. As it happens, that’s what Kelly’s done over his career. From 2013-15, he’s put up BABIPs of .289, .274 and .277 (league average is .295 this year).
The Red Sox and/or Kelly may have wanted a bit more out of that 97mph heat, though. By using his four-seamer more, and actually attempting to get Ks with his breaking ball (he’s using them more in 2 strike counts than in previous years), Kelly looks like he’s trying a modified approach. It worked brilliantly in his first start of 2015, where he set a new career high in Ks against the Yankees. But it’s come at a cost. Fewer sinkers have resulted in fewer grounders. More fly balls – and his FB% has jumped from 23.7% last year to 34.3% now – have meant more home runs. And while his BABIP’s still low, he’s been terrible with men on base. With no one on, he’s giving up a wOBA of .254. With men on, it’s .396, and it just goes up from there if they’re in scoring position. In one sense, this is encouraging – guy making some adjustments, and has an undeserved 6+ ERA. That sequencing luck will probably turn around, but the HR issue is tougher. Sure, his HR/FB is up, and thus his xFIP isn’t too bad, but as a control-challenged righty who now yields more FBs, we can’t expect his HR rate to fall all the way back to his own career average. Let’s see if the M’s can push it higher tonight. Kennedy and Shields were guys they needed to be somewhat aggressive with, but Kelly – coming off a game in which he walked 7 Blue Jays in 5 2/3IP – is someone to be patient with.
1: Smith, RF
2: Miller, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Taylor, SS
And there we have it, Brad Miller’s first OF start. He may get some work with the lefty Roenis Elias on the hill and a righty-dominated line-up against him. That said, Elias has had some GB tendencies, and the Red Sox as a team hit more grounders than average.
The Rainiers were rained out yesterday, so they’ll play a doubleheader today at Cheney. Forrest Snow starts game 1, and Mike Montgomery will go in game 2. Head to Cheney if you don’t want to deal with an army of Sawx fans tonight.
Jackson faces Biloxi again, and look to get back in the win column behind Jake Zokan. He’ll face off with Hobbs Johnson, a 14th round pick out of UNC who’s put up gaudy ERAs but doesn’t have the raw stuff to rank highly on prospect lists.
Tyler Pike leads the Bakersfield Blaze against Rancho Cucamonga. Scott Barlow starts for the Quakes. Barlow’s a former 6th rounder the Dodgers grabbed out of HS, and who has a very good FB/Curve combo. He’s struggled to stay healthy, though, and his results haven’t been there in the past. Rancho topped Bakersfield 4-3 last night, getting a walk-off win in the 11th off newly-demoted RP Dylan Unsworth.