Games 160 and 161: Tigers at Mariners

marc w · October 4, 2022 at 1:55 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

1: Chris Flexen vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 3:10pm
2: Justus Sheffield vs. Elvin Rodriguez, 6:40pm

The M’s end the season with Chris Flexen, Justus Sheffield, and Marco Gonzales as the probable starters. Yes, we’ve got a double header today, but the other factor here is that the Toronto Blue Jays wrapped up the WC1 spot and home field advantage in the divisional round. As such, the M’s are resting their starters and getting their rotation ready for the Jays. Luis Castillo will pitch game 1, and Robbie Ray game 2. Based on yesterday and just days of rest, you’d have to assume that game 3 would go to Logan Gilbert, but it’s long enough away that they could go with George Kirby if they really wanted to.

It was another disappointing outing for Kirby yesterday, as the command/control expert walked 3 in just 4 IP, giving up a home run too. He’s now pitched 156 2/3 IP this year between the majors and minors, after pitching a grand total of 90 2/3 IP as a pro since 2019. To be fair, if you include his college innings, he topped 100 in 2019, but after the 2020 layoff and then totalling under 70 IP last year, this is a major, major step up in workload. He’s handled it beautifully, but I also wouldn’t begrudge him if he’s feeling pretty gassed.

I asked yesterday why they wouldn’t have Chris Flexen pitch 3-4 IP yesterday behind Kirby and we now have our answer. They wanted to use him here as a starter, which is also a completely understandable use case for a long man in a now-meaningless game. The same thing’s true of having Justus Sheffield up as the double header’s temporary 29th roster spot. You want to keep your playoff roster from being overworked, you want to get them rested for Toronto, so there’s no sense in burning either Gilbert, Marco, or a bunch of relievers. Give it to Sheffield. It’s a sad commentary on the degree to which Shef’s star has dimmed, but it’s pretty hard to argue with right now.

In Game 1, the M’s face Eduardo Rodriguez, the ex-Red Sox lefty and one of the Tigers big free agent pick-ups this past off-season. Injuries have limited his innings this year, and they may be playing a role in the sudden collapse of his strikeout rate. It’s under 18% coming into today, the lowest of his career, and a far sight from last year’s 27.4%. Rodriguez has always had a good change-up that has helped him get Ks against right-handed bats, and his fastball has been good for called strikes and backwards Ks, too. This year, that’s not happening as much. The first reason is that his control isn’t what it was, another indication that injuries might be partially to blame. His change induces a lot of swings, but batters are taking more of them for called balls this year, leading to higher walk rates. Their swings have produced slightly more balls in play this year, too. And that gets to the second reason: velo. His fastball is down about 1 MPH; nothing much, but it’s perhaps more important for someone now at 91-92. Importantly, the velocity gap between his change and fastball (which was never large to begin with) is down – his change-up is coming in fractionally higher than last year, pushing the velo gap from 7 MPH to 6 MPH.

But by far his biggest problem is that sinking four-seam fastball. Its whiff rate has been cut in half from last year, and it’s hard to know what to attribute that to. It’s not necessarily even a bad thing; his overall results on the fastball are just fine, especially compared to last year, it’s just that they’re much, much worse in this one narrow peripheral. Good things have happened – for Eduardo – when batters hit his fastball, which is nice, because they sure are hitting his fastball.

In game 2, we get another E. Rodriguez, this one Elvin (which sounds like a Tolkien reference or something). This Rodriguez is a right-hander with a more traditional, rising four-seam fastball. That rising fastball has been a disaster for him, however, as he’s given up 6 HRs and 11 extra-base hits in just 55 at-bats or 47 balls in play. Batters have a slugging percentage over .700 on it. He has a change and slider, but batters should be looking to hit and elevate a heater, especially in hitters’ counts. And he has no problem getting behind in the count; he’s also walking far too many. I get why Detroit wants to see what they have here, and he’s just 24, but he’s been Detroit’s least-valuable pitcher by WAR, and he’s thrown less than 30 IP. Ouch.

1: Crawford, SS
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Santana, DH
6: Kelenic, CF
7: Toro, 2B
8: Frazier, LF
9: Casali, C
SP: Flexen

Curt Casali’s back from the paternity list. Brian O’Keefe’s two day party tour is at an end. Abe Toro is back replacing Sam Haggerty, who went on the IL, effectively ending his season unless the M’s make the ALCS.


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