Game 92, Astros at Mariners
Mike Montgomery vs. Collin McHugh, 1:10pm
After a great spot start in Kansas City, Mike Montgomery’s earned the start today against Houston. Montgomery’s become a key member of the M’s pitching staff this year despite nearly getting waived in the spring. Two developments have helped him go from marginal big leaguer to shut-down reliever: increased velocity and trust in his suddenly dominant curveball. Some of the velo bump’s the result of his role change, but not all of it – instead of a 1-2 mph increase, Montgomery gained 4-5 and he’s sat at 95 with his four-seam fastball the whole year. Even better, he maintained nearly all of that velocity in his last start in Kansas City. He averaged 94 and touched 96 on July 10th, *averaging* more than his top fastball in 2015.
But velocity, as helpful as it is, can’t fully explain Montgomery’s results – just ask James Paxton. Last year, Montgomery’s change helped him keep righties off balance, but lefties ate him alive. His curveball was a good third pitch, but his cutter wasn’t working. This year, his slightly reworked curve is now his second pitch, with the changeup a third offering to righties. With Montgomery’s improved arm speed, the curve’s spinning more and thus has more movement. While his curve was already a solid ground ball pitch, the new and improved hook now generates a ton of whiffs to go with those grounders. In the game in Kansas City, it had 2400-2500 RPMs, above the league average, and it’s now a true weapon against lefties and righties alike. Lefties are slugging .231 against Montgomery this year (they slugged .461 in 2015), and righties aren’t faring much better (.319).
Collin McHugh knows all about spin rates – his high spin curve was one of the reasons the Astros plucked him off the waiver wire a few years ago. While Montgomery’s curve is more 12-6 (or 11-5), and features more vertical drop, McHugh’s hook has a lot more horizontal movement. In his first season with the Astros, it was easily his best pitch, and it helped McHugh post gaudy strikeout totals and get a ground ball if he needed one. But over time, hitters seem to be adjusting. His ground ball rate on his curve’s dropped each year since, and thus batters are doing more damage when they make contact with it. It’s still a good pitch, to be clear, but after giving up just 4 extra base hits on his 577 curves in 2014 (0.69%), he’s given up 13 in 501 (2.59%) this year. That’s a big reason why McHugh’s HR/9 has moved up from 0.76 in 2014 to 0.84 last year and 1.15 this season.
It seems clear that McHugh isn’t the potential #2 he looked like in 2014, but he’s been hit harder than his FIP might indicate. A .346 BABIP screams bad luck, especially when its paired with one of the league’s lowest average exit velocities. But part of it may be some increasing problems against left-handed hitters, something that never bothered him in the past few seasons. Again, it’s possible this is dumb luck, but I’d bet the Astros’ coaches and their analytics team is exploring other possibilities. McHugh’s been tough on the M’s, so maybe it won’t matter.
1: Smith, LF
2: Martin, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lee, 1B
7: Lind, DH
8: Sucre, C
9: Marte, SS
Lee’s solid against righties and lefties alike, so I understand the temptation to get both Lee and Lind in the line-up, but that forces Nelson Cruz – gimpy foot and all – into RF, and that seems sub-optimal. They’ve been doing this a lot, and maybe they figure it’s the only way to get him out of his slump, but sticking Cruz in right so you can DH a guy with a .258 OBP….hmmmm.
After a night off, both Ketel Marte and Nelson Cruz are back in the line-up. After his second slide-related injury (Marte sprained his ankle on Friday), the M’s are going to do some remedial sliding instruction for their young shortstop.
DJ Peterson hit his 4th HR for Tacoma as the R’s beat Colorado Springs 7-2 last night. Jarrett Grube was solid for 5, and the bullpen – now featuring newcomers Kevin Munson and Guido Knudson – blanked the SkySox the rest of the way. Joe Weiland starts for Tacoma today.
Mississippi edged Jackson 5-4, as the Generals gave up a couple of unearned run and paid the price for it. Forrest Snow K’d 4 in 2 IP of relief. Andrew Moore takes the mound for the Generals today.
Bakersfield blanked Visalia 4-0 as Zack Littell continues to impress in the Cal League. The 20 year old right-hander struck out 7 in 6 shutout IP, and has given up just 3 runs total and 2 walks in 18 innings with the Blaze. SS Drew Jackson continues to rake in recent weeks; a few days after a walk-off grand slam, Jackson had 3 hits last night. Tyler Pike starts today’s game against the Rawhide and German righty Markus Solbach.
Clinton beat West Michigan 4-3 in 11. Dalton Kelly’s 3R-HR was the big blow, but Rayder Ascanio’s walked it off with a single in the 11th. Joey Strain starts for the Lumberkings today in what’s looking like a bullpen day.
Ljay Newsome was solid for 5+ for Everett, but it wasn’t enough, as Hillsboro scored 2 late runs to win it 3-2. Newsome now has 28 Ks to just 5 walks in his 29 innings for the AquaSox. Reggie McClain starts for Everett. The great control he showed at Missouri’s been evident in the NWL; he’s K’d 15 and has yet to walk anyone as a pro.
Brayan Hernandez, the heralded Dominican OF that was tearing up the DSL has been promoted to the M’s rookie league team in the Arizona League. He had a single in 5 at-bats for Peoria in his debut yesterady.