Game 22, Mariners at Tigers

marc w · April 26, 2017 at 3:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Daniel Norris, 4:10pm

It’s been a rough 24 hours. The M’s gave up 19 runs in Comerica as Felix and then Chris Heston and Evan Marshall imploded. The M’s then lost their best hitter thus far, Mitch Haniger, to an apparent oblique injury that he’ll fly back to Seattle tonight to have evaluated. And, worst of all, Felix Hernandez has been placed on the DL with “shoulder tightness” and “dead arm” after tossing a couple of lackluster innings. Felix is the beating heart of the team, or rather, of M’s fandom. At this point, it’s pretty obvious that there are better players on the team, however you want to measure that, and that he hasn’t been among the game’s elite pitchers for a couple of years. But M’s fans are scared right now. Felix has, almost singlehandedly, justified mental energy spent on the M’s. His personality, his approach on the mound, the way he threw himself into Seattle and this region – he was the return on our collective investment.

I have no idea what will come of the inevitable tests on his right shoulder, but I’ve found comfort in the fact that I’ve felt like this before. It was April 18th, 2007. Felix came into that season off of a disappointing 2006 in which his dominating stuff produced less-than-dominating results. HRs and high BABIP led to too many big innings, but we all knew what he was capable of. That April, he showed us. He struck out 13 in 8 utterly dominating shutout innings against Oakland on opening day, and then in what became a defining game for him, he upstaged Daisuke Matsuzaka on his home debut, one-hitting Boston in a CG masterpiece. If you were around the M’s blogosphere then, you remember the feeling. Jeff Sullivan, then at Lookout Landing, was AT that game at Fenway, and all of us were going nuts as we watched Felix ascend the throne and make his nickname (which many other fans began to use pejoratively in 2006) manifest and obvious. And then came the 18th, his next start. It was at home against the Twins, and he looked off immediately. He was getting hit, and then couldn’t find the zone. After two straight walks, the trainers came out, and his day was done after just 1/3 of an inning. Later that night and the next day, we heard why: Felix experienced pain in his right elbow, and was placed on the disabled list. I was certain the TJ surgery was being scheduled. The M’s later said he’d be reevaluated and could come off the DL in May, but it seemed too improbable, and unbelievable from a team that suffered a wave of pitching arm injuries. An entire fan base tensed up for a blow that never came. Felix wasn’t quite Felix the rest of that year, but he was healthy, and made the leap to superstardom soon enough. I’m feeling today a lot of what I felt on April 19th, 2007, and the only thing making it easier is knowing that I was completely wrong the last time I thought the worst about an injury to El Cartelua.

The M’s game in Detroit takes on a very different feel now, and there are already articles discussing a potential rebuild. As we’ve talked about, that’s simply not an option for the M’s. Their core is older and signed to long-term contracts that, while they wouldn’t scare teams off, reduce the potential return. The farm system was raided to bring in the complementary pieces on this club. There’s not much help on the farm right now, as Felix’s rotation spot will be filled for the moment by Chase de Jong. This is the greatest test of the team’s vaunted culture. If they can stay positive and competitive now, then their work on a loose, positive clubhouse enviroment will have been one of the best investments in the club in years. If not, then the old sabermetric notion that wins produce a positive culture much more than a positive culture produces wins will get more supporting evidence.

James Paxton starts today in, what, his third must-win, please-don’t-let-us-down game of the year already? The M’s have loaded a ton of expectations on Paxton’s shoulders, and now they’ll load plenty more as Paxton’s going to have to pitch like an ace all year and hope the patched-together rotation keeps the team afloat. The loss of Haniger may be just as problematic, as the team has plenty of reasonably athletic corner OFs, but none with Haniger’s demonstrated ability at the plate. In the short-medium term, Taylor Motter simply becomes an OF full time. Kyle Seager’s scheduled to be back from his hip issue tomorrow, and thus the infield’s back to full strength. Ben Gamel’s up as the team’s best RF defender now, but Motter can play LF and move Heredia either to spot-starting in CF, or to RF when the M’s face a lefty. Gamel starts today, but we’ll see what the M’s do once Motter’s pushed to the OF.

Daniel Norris is a lefty who’s taken a while to make it in the big leagues. He throws 94, and has a good slider/change-up, but HRs and command problems made his results more mediocre than his talent would indicate. He shook that off last year after spending much of the year in the minors, returning to post a well above-average K rate and K-BB% in 13 starts. Despite the lefty velocity, he doesn’t have strong platoon splits; this isn’t a game where you’d want to get righties in the line-up at all costs. His command seems a bit off again this year, as his K:BB ratio is awful thus far, and he’s throwing more balls on every pitch type. Part of this is that batters are simply swinging less; he’s never been one to get a lot of out-of-zone swings, and this year, batters’ patience has paid off.

1: Segura, SS
2: Heredia, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Motter, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Dyson, CF
SP: Paxton. Save us, Paxton.

The M’s predictably sent Chris Heston and Evan Marshall to AAA, and called up a new long reliever for the third time in a row. Today, it’s Dillon Overton’s turn. Joining him are Ben Gamel, and “Tasty” Chase de Jong, who’ll be slotted into Felix’s rotation spot. In a surprising move, the M’s also purchased the contract of reliever Casey Fien, whom they’d outrighted 2 weeks ago. Steve Cishek may not quite be ready, and Dan Altavilla was sent down less than 10 days ago, so they had fewer options than you’d think, but given that the move required creating a 40-man spot, they could’ve called up anyone in Tacoma. With Mark Lowe/Nick Hagadone struggling, I guess Fien sort of makes sense? I’m still a bit surprised they didn’t simply recall Altavilla. Rule 11(b)(1) prohibits a team from recalling a player within 10 days of being optioned, but there are exceptions. One of them is if another player is DL’d within that 10 day time frame. Felix’s DL trip seems like a tailor-made allowable exception to the rule. Maybe the team simply wants Altavilla to continue working with Tacoma’s coaches. It’s a mess.

Tacoma’s game yesterday was postponed, and they’ve got a travel day today.

Arkansas beat Tulsa 3-2 as Dylan Unsworth K’d 8 in 6 solid innings. Unsworth seemed poised to become the first African-born player in the majors this spring, but today the Pittsburgh Pirates called up SS Gift Ngoepe, another South African. Ngoepe’s a great story, and I’m excited for him – he’s a plus glove at SS, but not much of a hitter. Unsworth can become the second if he continues to pitch well. We’ll see if he can move back up to Tacoma given all of this roster churn. Peter Tago got the save for Arkansas; the righty whom the M’s picked up on waivers this off-season has been solid thus far. Tyler Herb and Colt Hynes face off today.

Modesto lost to IE 7-2, as the 66ers broke open a close game with 4 runs in the 9th. Reggie McClain was solid again for the Nuts, and Ricky Eusebio homered again, but Braden Bishop’s hit streak was snapped with an 0-4 night. Nathan Bannister starts today against Austin Robichaux.

Beloit shut out Clinton yesterday, as Michael Murray and Dakota Chalmers gave the Lumberkings fits. Joe Rizzo continued his hot start with a 2-4 day that actually reduced his batting average to .583. They played again today, and Clinton came back from an early 4-0 deficit and tied Beloit with 2 runs in the 9th, but then watched as the Snappers walked off with a 5-4 win on a, uh, walk-off single by “Pale Imitation Of” Edwin Diaz. Rizzo was a mere 1-4 with a 2B.


15 Responses to “Game 22, Mariners at Tigers”

  1. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 4:09 pm

    Good to hear that Seager will be back in the lineup tomorrow. The “hip” is an overly complex beast with 17 supporting muscles and a ball and socket joint deep inward near the groin. Ask people to point to their hip and they will probably touch the greater trochanter on the side of their leg/ass and some may point to their iliac crest. I’m going to make zero guesses as to what Seager’s specific issue was/is but a strained hip flexor muscle would seem to be a realistic possibility with his quick return.

    If you recall, A-Rod once upon a time had a “hip issue” which was actually FAI (an out of round ball/socket for lack of a better explanation from a lay person). And that is a very serious issue for an athlete. It’s being diagnosed more and more readily because MRI’s provide a lot of detail that was not possible yesteryear.

    It’s not an area of the body I am unfamiliar with (unfortunately) but a true diagnosis of a “hip issue” can sometimes take a very long time to truly reveal itself.

  2. Westside guy on April 26th, 2017 4:16 pm

    Shall we start calling you “Doctor Mike”? 😀

    … or maybe just “Doc” for short.

  3. Westside guy on April 26th, 2017 4:22 pm

    I’d love to see Norris continue to have problems throwing strikes…

  4. Westside guy on April 26th, 2017 4:23 pm

    All right, the bases are loaded for Motter!

  5. Westside guy on April 26th, 2017 4:25 pm


    Oh, great, it’s Valencia.

  6. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 4:30 pm

    Valencia smoked that pitch. Bad direction, good contact.

    Yeah, “Doc” would be fine … its amazing what you can learn from 50+ years of doing things to injure yourself. Still going strong relatively speaking … no sense in leaving any bullets in the chamber.
    Unfortunately there are only a few bullets left. When I’m slower than Ruiz I’ll probably just have to start golfing.

  7. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 4:42 pm

    Norris has a nasty breaking ball when he keeps it down.

    Then again most major league pitchers do.

  8. Westside guy on April 26th, 2017 4:45 pm

    Yeah! Heredia!

  9. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 4:46 pm

    He didn’t get “that one” down and Heredia made him pay. Nice work Guillermo!

  10. mrakbaseball on April 26th, 2017 4:49 pm

    Seeing Segura come back and immediately rake makes the loss of Haniger hurt that much more. At least Heredia is making his presence known.

  11. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 4:54 pm

    I’m pretty sure the Mariners can retain the pace that was set during the first 21 games prior to the Felix and Haniger injuries … which I guess “IS” the problem.

    Unfortunately, that pace might be as good as it gets unless Seager and Cano start carrying a much bigger load.

  12. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 4:55 pm

    And that pitching staff… yikes!

    It’s certainly not just going to be up to Cano and Seager to take on a bigger load.

  13. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 6:09 pm

    Great AB by Gamel!

    Crap AB by Zunino – taking strike three with the bases loaded. He doesn’t just swallow one planet at a time – he devours an entire galaxy.

  14. msfanmike on April 26th, 2017 6:50 pm

    Segura has an awesome swing. Short, quick, level and he’s always on balance. No artificial “lift” to his swing … no real need for it. He will get enough extra base hits by just “squaring it up.” I love it!

  15. Westside guy on April 26th, 2017 7:53 pm

    Given the circumstances, that was a big win… psychologically at least.

    Two games don’t make a trend – but it would be great if this turned out to be the start of a trend for Valencia. At least a couple steps away from the black hole he’s been to this point.

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