Game 14, Mariners at Indians
Taijuan Walker vs. Danny Salazar, 3:10pm (what’s with these weird start times?)
Today’s game pits two great young right handed power pitchers against each other. Danny Salazar kicked around the minors for years as a low-to-moderate K command type, and then flipped an extremely useful switch and started striking out well over a batter an inning. Happily for Salazar, this newfound ability didn’t come at the expense of his control, which is still pretty good. After a dazzling major league call-up in 2013, he regressed badly in his first full season, with an extremely high BABIP probably playing a role.
In fact, his FIP has been pretty stable, moving between around 3.2 to 3.6, but even that seems high given Salazar’s pure stuff. An electric fastball at 96, a curve with huge break, a slider, and then a splitter which he can use to get lefties and get ground balls. If that repertoire sounds familiar, it should: that sounds a lot like Walker’s. Walker’s curve is a lot slower, and his split moves a bit differently, but these pitchers have a similar gameplan and use similar tools to implement it.
Both of them debuted in 2013, and since then they’ve kind of moved in opposite directions in terms of their release point. Walker came up with a fastball with great vertical rise, but he’s getting less backspin on the ball this season, and it’s firmly in the normal range – a slightly lower release point may help with this, too. Salazar, meanwhile, has gotten more on top of the ball, and so his four-seam fastball has more rise now than at any point in his (short) career. For Walker, this has meant a lot more ground balls. Less rise, less elevated contact. Salazar’s FB now generates fewer GBs, but he’s able to compensate with his split. As his command of the pitch has improved, its gotten more grounders while maintaining and even increasing its whiff rate – it’s a hell of a pitch.
Walker’s looks great at times, but he’s using it – and his fastball – less in the early going. This year, he’s using his breaking balls a lot more; the M’s field staff last year pretty clearly didn’t think much of his curve, but he’s throwing it a bit more now, and his work-in-progress cutter is getting more of a workout as well. This spring he claimed to be working on a true slider, but we still haven’t seen it. No matter what he calls it, his hard (90mph) cutter can be effective if he can command it, and more repetitions might help with that. At times last year, Walker was pretty clearly operating with two pitches: a four-seamer and a split, and batters, especially righties, seemed too comfortable against 96mph fastballs when they knew they didn’t have to look for a breaking ball. Walker’s been solid in the early going, but like Salazar, hasn’t quite broken out like many of us expect. If he can maintain this new level of ground ball contact, or if he can really start to dominate righties the way he *should be* capable of, he’ll make that leap.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Sardinas, SS
Seth Smith’s gimpy legs have healed to the point where he’s able to play in the OF, allowing Cruz to move back to DH. Taijuan Walker must be happy about that.
Tacoma played an early one today, beating El Paso 3-1 to move to 10-3. The big story was James Paxton getting things back on track, going 6 shutout innings and striking out 3 *without a walk*. Nice to see. Chris Taylor continued his rampage with two doubles, but Mike Zunino went 0-4. Last night, the Rainiers kicked the Chihuahuas 11-7, behind two hits from Taylor and Zunino and a HR from Mike Baxter. Cody Martin wasn’t great, but it was a hitters’ night, as the Rainiers dropped 11 runs on Jeremy Guthrie.
Jackson had an early one as well, and they too came away with a win, beating Birmingham 4-3. UW product Andrew Kittredge got the win with three scoreless innings in relief, and DJ Peterson continued his hot streak with two more hits including a double. Last night, the Generals beat the Barons 5-4, despite quiet nights from middle of the order guys Peterson and Tyler O’Neill. Kraig Sitton got the win in relief.
Bakersfield beat Modesto 6-2 behind Tyler Herb, who K’d 10 in 5 2/3 IP. Drew Jackson had 2 hits for the Blaze, which is great, as his grounder-heavy offense hasn’t played as well in the Cal League as it did in Everett last year. Oddly, he was caught stealing for the 3rd time, meaning he’s just 2-5 on steal attempts after going 47-51 last year. Tonight, Tyler Pike starts opposite Modesto’s Sam Howard, a left-handed prospect in the Rockies’ org.
Clinton completed the org sweep last night with a big comeback against Peoria. Joey Strain of the Lumberkings had a rough 8th inning, letting an inherited runner score and then coughing up 3 more runs of his own, breaking a 3-3 tie. Undaunted, Clinton scored 4 in the 9th to tie, and then another 3 in the 10th to win it. 38th round pick Dalton Kelly had 5 hits in the game, and 2B Chris Mariscal had 3. In today’s getaway game, Clinton beat Peoria 6-4. Starter Kyle Wilcox’s control battles were still an issue, but the Lumberkings bailed him out with 10 hits including 5 doubles.