Game 109, Angels at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. Tyler Skaggs, 6:40pm – Note the odd start time
Taijuan Walker makes his return from the DL tonight; we’ll see how long his foot holds up. Walker’s critical to the M’s going forward, as the M’s rotation suddenly needs all the help it can get. HR issues aside, it’s been a solid year for him results-wise. But with his foot injury lingering and with a FIP of 4.72, questions remain. I’ve been a big Walker believer for many years, but it’s sad to see another year go by seeing only tantalizing flashes of what he could become.
Tyler Skaggs, the lefty who missed parts of 2014, all of 2015 and half of 2016 rehabbing from TJ surgery, makes his third start of the year. To say he’s been good is an understatement. In 12 1/3 IP in his first two games back, he’s K’d 13 and walked 3, given up just 7 hits and allowed a grand total of 0 runs. Once the prize of the Angels farm system, he moved to Arizona in 2010 in the Dan Haren-for-Joe Saunders swap. That deal came in late July of 2010, when a young, interim GM in Arizona had been on the job for about 3 weeks. Jerry Dipoto’s first big trade was a big one, and while Saunders replaced Haren’s innings in the majors, Skaggs was seen as the real prize for the rebuilding Diamondbacks. Unfortunately for Arizona, Skaggs’ stuff didn’t comport with either his top prospect reputation or his (very good) results in the minors in 2011-2012. He had a cup of coffee with Arizona in 2012, and got hit hard, surrendering too many HRs and averaging just 90mph on his fastball. Sure, he was a lefty, and he was never supposed to be a high-90s fireballer, but he wasn’t any better in 2013, and worse, he got hit just as hard in the minors.
After that season, the Diamondbacks sent him back to Anaheim in the three-team trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona, Hector Santiago to Anaheim and Adam Eaton to Chicago. The GM acquiring him in that trade? Uh, Jerry Dipoto again. Almost immediately, he added the MPH to his fastball that he’d lost in the desert, and he averaged 92+ for the Angels. It’s not like he was an ace or anything, but he was a solid pitcher, with a FIP in the mid-3’s and a much better walk rate than he’d shown in Arizona. Unfortunately, he succumbed to a torn ligament during 2014, and his rehab took a bit longer than expected. At one point, Skaggs had talked about trying to get back within 12-14 months and pitch in games (perhaps in the minors) in 2015, but that obviously didn’t happen.
Given the layoff, I’m sure even the Angels didn’t quite know what to expect, but thus far, he’s been better than ever. His velocity’s over 93 at this point, with excellent rise. His curve, thrown about 76, has a ton of movement as well. He’s got a decent change, but it’s clearly behind the hook. He’s been hard on lefties, but he’s really improved against righties recently – he dominated them in the PCL this year, and that’s continued in his first couple starts with the Angels.
The story of today’s game isn’t Skaggs, nor even Walker’s return. It’s the ceremony honoring recent HOF inductee Ken Griffey Jr., who’ll have his iconic #24 jersey retired tonight. It’s been a great weekend, with Griffey bobblehead day yesterday and Griffey jersey giveaway tomorrow. I’ve tried to say how much Griffey meant to Seattle and to baseball, but I can’t come close to capturing it. He was one of a kind, and I’ll always be thankful for seeing his career play out.
1: Heredia, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: O’Malley, SS
The Rainiers look for a 3-1 series win over El Paso tonight with Joe Wieland on the mound. They’ve pounded the Chihuahuas thus far, scoring 30 runs in the first three games, highlighted by a PCL-classic 16-15 win the other day. Stefen Romero’s homered in each of the past two games and continues to put together an eye opening season. Pat Venditte will be activated and ready to pitch for Tacoma. Yesterday’s 7-5 loss was marred by 4 Tacoma errors and 5 unearned runs. Tacoma’s record on the year is 66-47, best in the PCL. They have a 3 game lead over Fresno in their division.
Jackson faces Birminham today, with Tyler Herb taking the hill for the Generals. Recent acquisition Paul Blackburn (part of the Mike Montgomery deal) is off to a fast start, giving up 2 runs in 14 IP over 3 starts with his new team. He’s still not missing many bats, but hey, so far, so good. Ryan Yarbrough’s given up 1 earned run in his last 18 innings. Jackson is 30 games over .500. After winning the first-half title going away, they’re leading the second-half race as well.
Bakersfield faces Lake Elsinore today with Zack Littell throwing for the Blaze. The North Carolinian has been dominant for Bakersfield, even if his long scoreless streak was snapped in his last start. He’s 5-0 with an ERA of 1.66 in 6 games in High-A. Bakersfield’s only 60-52, which makes for a poor year in this year’s M’s affiliates. They DO have a solid lead in the second half standings in the Cal League North, so the dream of every full-season affiliate making the playoffs is alive and well.
Clinton and Ronald Dominguez face off with Beloit tonight. Dominguez has worked out of the pen and the rotation, and has a nice 50:8 K:BB ratio for the Lumberkings. Clinton swept a doubleheader from Cedar Rapids last night, scoring 4 runs in the 8th and 9th to beat the Kernels 7-3 in Game 1, and winning 5-3 in the nightcap. Augustus Craig’s 8th inning HR was the big blow in game 1, but Alex Jackson had 2 hits and a double in each game. Nick Neidert pitched the second game, and now has a 56:8 K:BB ratio with only 58 hits allowed in 70 IP. Clinton, like Bakersfield, leads the second half standings in the MWL West, and at 66-45, they have the 2nd best record in the MWL as a whole.
Everett dropped a 7-5 contest to Hillsboro last night, despite a HR from rehabbing SS Ketel Marte. They face the Hops again today, with Tim Viehoff on the mound. Viehoff, the M’s 12th round pick, has 34 Ks and just 13 hits allowed in 24 2/3 IP. Everett, too, is leading the second half standings in their division.