Game 106, Astros at Mariners – Another Bullpen Addition: Welcome, Zach Duke

marc w · July 30, 2018 at 5:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Gerrit Cole, 7:10pm

Before we get to today’s game – a game featuring an absolute can’t-miss pitching match-up – we need to address the day’s biggest news, which is that the M’s have acquired lefty reliever Zach Duke from the Minnesota Twins. The out-of-it Twins have been taking offers on their pitching staff, from starters like Jake Odorizzi to closer Fernando Rodney, but the M’s went after lefty specialist Duke, who’s a free agent at the end of the year and having a solid season. The return is A-ball 1B Ryan Costello, who’s having a solid season in the Midwest League, and AA starter Chase De Jong, who came over from the Dodgers org before 2017 and who pitched at three levels, making the big club for 7 games including 4 starts.

De Jong had been the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2016, so it was odd that he struggled so mightily in AAA. Sure, as a command-and-control guy, he was facing better competition and a much different scoring environment, but he posted an ERA of 6 and a FIP even higher than that. He struggled in the big leagues, too, and eventually got moved down to AA – back to the Texas League. Where he continued to struggle. Things have gone much better in 2018, as he’s repeating the Texas League yet again, but at this point it’s fair to say something isn’t working, and I’m glad the M’s were able to get some value here. De Jong seems like a perfect change-of-scenery candidate, so not a bad flyer for the Twins to take, but I keep thinking his ceiling is pretty limited. The odds of him reaching it here were minimal, so hey, nice move.

Ryan Costello was a 31st-rounder in 2017 out of Coastal Carolina, and the 1B hit very well in the Arizona League after signing. Skipping over the Northwest League, Costello’s more than held his own in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League this year, thanks to a walk rate north of 10% and solid-but-not-remarkable power. As a 22-year old 1B, he’s going to have to keep this up for a while to be a big time prospect, but he’s done far, far more than you’d ever expect from a 31st rounder. I tend to think the game’s missed a bit on bat-first 1B types, as it’s easy to say that the position demands so much production at the plate, but, uh, the position *really does* demand a ton of production at the plate. He’s done that to this point, but his average may be a concern. All in all, another solid lottery ticket for the Twins, and a great job by the M’s that he’d performed well enough to be included in a deal for Duke.

Unlike Sam Tuivailala, Duke really is an effective situational reliever. His sinker’s his primary fastball, and while it’s only 88 MPH, it gets exceptional sink, and it’s a big reason why Duke’s able to produce high ground ball rates. He’s traditionally relied on a curve as his out pitch, but he also mixes in a slider, and he’s got a change-up when asked to face righties. After a down year in 2017, he’s again striking out over 1/4 of the lefties he faces, and more importantly, he’s allowed only 1 HR to a lefty…since 2015, a span of more than 200 PAs against southpaws. Compared to, say, Marc Rzepczynski, Duke’s FB has more sink, and he gets more two-plane break on his slider. He’s got the deeper repertoire overall. Hence, his far superior projections at this point. Yes, comparing him to a DFA’d guy isn’t a high bar to clear, but there are some obvious similarities. It’s just that Duke’s been a bit better overall, and will likely remain so. (It’s *also* because the M’s just signed Rzepczynski on a minor league deal.) This isn’t a game-changing move, but it’s a solid addition in an area of need. M’s relievers have been the best group on the club over the past 30 days, as the hitting’s been non-existent and the starters have been all over the map. But the M’s have to avoid overworking some of their guys, or they’ll get a repeat of the bullpen swoons of 2017 and 2016. Adding Duke should help with that.

They’ll need it, because they’re facing a tough stretch of games here. The next two nights, the M’s will face Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton, #9 and #20 in fWAR, and #2 and #8 in K% among qualified pitchers. For an offense that’s reeling a bit, that’s a tough assignment. The good news, if there is any, is that the M’s don’t seem as likely to strike out as many of the other line-ups Cole/Morton face. Cole was absolutely red hot when the M’s saw him in April, but he K’d only 5 on that day…not that the M’s could do anything with the balls they put in play. But still: Cole’s got an absolutely terrible career K rate against this line-up, and that includes Dee Gordon and Jean Segura, who’ve faced him a combined 46 times, and struck out once each. He’s only struck out three players more than once in his career, and he’s not going to see any of them tonight: James Paxton, Mike Leake, and Andrew Romine. Yes, most of these at-bats came back when he was a sinkerballing pitch-to-contact guy, but again, the 5 Ks he had against the M’s in April are tied for his single game low this year. Am I kind of reaching here? Yeah, maybe, but if you put it in play, you’ve got a chance. Still, this match-up puts a lot of pressure on Paxton to be perfect or near perfect. That’s a lot to ask for a guy coming off the DL, though we’ll see if the rest helps his velocity and stuff, or if he’s rusty and missing his spots.

Lots of talk today on the radio and on twitter about the M’s upcoming decision regarding Felix Hernandez. Do they move him to the pen? DL him with a phantom injury and tell him to work on something? Move him? I’ve been one of Felix’s biggest fans since this blog dubbed him King Felix about 15 years ago, but I understand the M’s dilemma here. What I don’t understand is why the org can’t help him make the kinds of changes that have rejuvenated guys who’ve been even worse in recent years: James Shields, Derek Holland, or hell, Charlie Morton. No one’s asking for a version of Felix that throws 98 again. But to watch the org trash Felix or blame him and not *help him improve* has been frustrating. Yes, it takes two sides, and if Felix steadfastly refuses to change anything, believing he’s above such demands, that’d be one thing. But everything we’ve seen suggests that he is: he changed his FB approach when the team asked him to. He revamped his offseason workouts. He’s been willing to listen; the M’s just need to give him something actionable that will help. I don’t know what that thing is, but someone there must have some ideas. His slider and curve often melt into each other, reducing the effectiveness of both. His sinker’s lost all trace of deception against lefties, who are absolutely teeing off on the thing. It’s still somewhat playable against righties, but he’s going to have to change his pitch mix AND work on disguising all of his pitches a bit better. But that’s all doable. Really good teams are doing these kinds of mechanical tweaks on the fly all the time.

I understand that the margin for error is now limited. But the M’s need to understand that putting all of the onus on Felix to improve or…else is not only a bad look, it’s counterproductive. The M’s have made it clear they’re not looking at other starters, and now with a lefty and righty situational reliever, they’re bullpen should be just about complete. If the M’s had a premium SP prospect beating down the door, that’d be one thing. Instead, they’ve got Rob Whalen and a mostly-healthy Erasmo Ramirez who was destroyed in the handful of innings he’s pitched this year. You help Felix be the best version of himself he can be, or you run the risk of losing the wild card. Personally, I’d doubt that trashing him publicly and saying that Jerry/Scott Servais will have to talk through his role going forward is the best way to motivate him, but they’re obviously closer to the situation than I am. I just think that removing him is an admission of failure, a failure that goes far beyond Felix’s on-field performance. Great players fade away all the time – I know it, and I’m not being sentimental here. I’m disappointed that an organization who’s invested *so much* in mental and physical training, who’s bet on their own ability to motivate and coach, either can’t get through to their franchise icon, or doesn’t know what to tell him.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Span, LF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Haniger, CF
6: Gamel, RF
7: Healy, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Romine, 3B
SP: Paxton

Ooookay, so I didn’t *think* Cole would get to face Romine, but I guess he does. Apologies for the bad guess.

Erasmo’s making another rehab start for the Rainiers tonight in New Orleans, as he squares off against the Babycakes’ Jeff Brigham, a Federal Way and University of Washington product. A former 4th-round pick, Brigham’s been great when healthy, but has suffered a barrage of injuries that have limited his innings.

The M’s have made a series of moves with another trade (for RHP Adam Warren) and with Paxton coming off the dL. Vogelbach’s back to AAA. Gordon Beckham’s been DFA’d. The M’s brought up IF Zach Vincej, at least until the trade acquisitions arrive. All of this has put some pressure on the Rainiers roster. Mike Curto just tweeted that they have only 9 position players eligible to play tonight – including three catchers.


11 Responses to “Game 106, Astros at Mariners – Another Bullpen Addition: Welcome, Zach Duke”

  1. Stevemotivateir on July 30th, 2018 7:01 pm

    I’m perfectly okay with the price paid for these guys, but it would be good to see them land Domingo Santana, or any other credible outfielder, to give the lineup a boost. I suppose we’ll see Ramirez stretched out to address the rotation, but an external option would be welcomed. How to do that without getting burned is beyond me.

    Nice to see the Astros stuff their integrity in their back pocket for a better chance at another set of rings.

  2. mksh21 on July 30th, 2018 7:21 pm

    I would like to see a trade that results in Denard Span not hitting third.

  3. mksh21 on July 30th, 2018 7:38 pm

    Since MLB’s replay rules run the length of a Russian novel, I don’t feel like plowing their personal conduct rules. If Osuna is eligible for post season play that’s a great deal for them.

  4. Stevemotivateir on July 30th, 2018 7:46 pm

    ^Osuna being eligible for post season play for beating his wife, while Cano isn’t eligible for taking a banned substance, makes zero sense. Neither should be eligible.

    Osuna hasn’t even had his day in court.

  5. mksh21 on July 30th, 2018 8:02 pm

    Depends on your point of view I guess. One affects the actual game the other doesn’t. Now that there is an actual penalty for using I look at it like football where they serve the suspension and carry on, but booting them for post season makes some sense.
    I’d prefer to see a conviction before suspension in off the field stuff. I don’t even know if he admitted what he did, I stopped following what these guys do off the field other than the headlines you can’t avoid.

  6. mksh21 on July 30th, 2018 8:05 pm

    If Cole gets through Gordon and Segura eeking out an infield single third time through this is looking like no hitter territory. I’m still stunned this appears to be the line-up we are going to go with.

  7. Stevemotivateir on July 30th, 2018 8:40 pm

    Depends on your point of view I guess. One affects the actual game the other doesn’t.

    Both are violations of the rules and damaging to the integrity of the game. A domestic violence case like this absolutely affects the game. On-field performance means little.

    Regarding a conviction, let me share a quote from Luhnow: “We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.”

    Does that sound like he’s not guilty, which he will apparently plea? And if there was a shred of a chance of innocence, then how in the hell did MLB get away with the second longest suspension ever issued over a domestic violence case?

    The real kicker here is that Luhnow welcomed him while citing their zero-tolerance policy. He couldn’t look like a bigger hypocrite.

  8. mksh21 on July 30th, 2018 9:27 pm

    Im talking about the actual game played between the lines not “The Game” as an institution. Taking PED’s affects every thing you do on the field. Whether or not you are felon has no effect on balls and strikes. The Mariners drafted a rapist once and denied knowing about it, but I’m not going to stop following them. Some people don’t care if the use PED’s I do, however what they do off the field I have zero interest in good or bad.

    I’m stunned at this game so far. Pleasantly. Nice to see some other teams missing key players for once.

  9. Stevemotivateir on July 30th, 2018 10:01 pm

    ^Well, duh.

  10. Stevemotivateir on July 31st, 2018 5:36 am

    The rapist you’re thinking is Josh Lueke and he was aquired via trade, then traded again quickly after the backlash.

    As I stated above, on-field performance means little here, where it be PED’s or assault. Policies are in place to protect the itegrity of the game.

  11. Stevemotivateir on July 31st, 2018 9:42 am

    *Whether it be. Love auto-correct.

    At least we got the win it’s Houston who will have to deal with any backlash.

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