Hisashi Iwakuma Is Outstanding, Fernando Rodney Is Not

Updated, with comments about the latest episode of 24:  CRAZY TERRORIST MOM WATCHES CRAZY TERRORIST DAUGHTER HAVE SEX WITH RELUCTANT TERRORIST HUSBAND FOR, LIKE, TWO MINUTES BEFORE IT’S ALL OVER.  Boy, does 24 have zero respect for a man’s ability to delay orgasm in the throes of passion or what?  There’s nothing more entertaining than watching a sex scene start, followed by a commercial break, followed by the completion of said sex scene DURING the commercial break … unless it’s Jack Bauer having sex, in which case they’d need to call the show 48 (with a whole season’s worth of episodes being the most hardcore pornography you’ve ever seen in your life) …

Lost in all of this is that the Mariners’ offense has nearly blown the last TWO Iwakuma starts.  Both last night, and last week against Kansas City, Rodney was given 1-0 leads to close out in the ninth inning.  Yes, it’s a lead, and you expect your highly-priced free agent closer to keep those leads intact – that is his fucking JOB after all – but come on.  Iwakuma goes 8 shutout innings in both games, giving up a combined 8 hits, 0 walks, while striking out 12 … and the Mariners can only muster 1 run per game?

Is this how it’s going to be?  Is Iwakuma going to be the Hard Luck In Run Support Guy?

I don’t usually make it a point to sit down and watch – uninterrupted – a full Mariners game unless there’s about 12 beers in my immediate future, so last night was kind of a rarity.  But, when I’m confronted with a pitching matchup like Iwakuma vs. David Price, I can’t say no!

And believe you me, if there was any hype to this game outside of the Seattle area, this game lived up to that hypothetical hype and then some!

David Price is a stud and has been a stud for quite some time.  Hisashi Iwakuma has been a stud for considerably less time, but make no mistake, he’s a stud nonetheless.  You wouldn’t think it to look at him.  He’s not overpowering.  He doesn’t even have the crazy movement of a Yu Darvish.  But, he’s got the bottom of that strike zone on lockdown, he’s got just enough movement to induce a Darvish-esque amount of whiffs, and he’s always in command.  His pitches GO where he wants them to go and DO what he wants them to do.

Remember when Iwakuma was the slowest pitcher in the Major Leagues?  Or, at least it kinda felt that way and Dave Sims wouldn’t shut up about it?  So, even though he was effective, his games were still sort of unbearable because they took forever or just felt like they took forever because you had to listen to Sims’ whining for 3+ hours?  Well, now his games are Must See TV.  Except better, because honestly who could stand the last four or five seasons of Friends anyway?

I’ve read in a few places people referring to Iwakuma as an Ace.  It will never stop sounding odd to me.  When I think of an Ace, I think of someone like Felix Hernandez.  Someone who’s renown and lauded throughout the land.  Someone who is the constant source of hacky baseball articles asking, “When is Terrible Team X going to trade So & So?”  But, not only is Iwakuma NOT renown and lauded throughout the land, he’s not even renown OR lauded in his own (American) backyard!

You wanna talk about an underrated master of his craft, I’ll tell you what; Hisashi Iwakuma is easily a Top 10 pitcher in the bigs and is TOTALLY worthy of his being in every Cy Young conversation.  The Seattle Mariners have two amazing Ace pitchers on their staff, pretty much for the price of one.  Now, what we have to ask ourselves is:  can we afford to extend him long-term?

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On the flipside, we have Fernando Rodney.  BOY do people not like this guy right now!

There are two sources of Mariners fans’ ire last night/this morning:  Fernando Rodney (for being a piece of shit) and Lloyd McClendon (for letting the piece of shit blow the save in the 9th, instead of letting Iwakuma attempt the complete game).  Iwakuma had only thrown 97 pitches through eight masterful innings, so unless you’re afraid of the 100-pitch bogeyman coming to steal all of our souls the instant Iwakuma threw his third pitch of the ninth inning, it’s reasonable (under normal circumstances) to expect a starting, Ace pitcher to be capable of throwing 110-120 pitches without turning into a pumpkin.

But, of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.  I know you see the calendar and you see it’s the middle of May – we’re in our seventh week of the regular season at this point.  But, Iwakuma was just wrapping up his third start of the year.  This is, like, the second week of Iwakuma’s season (and how many guys do you see throwing complete games in the first or second weeks of their seasons?).

Also, Fernando Rodney has a specific job on this team:  he’s the closer.  As defined by the parlance of our times, The Closer is The Guy who gets The Saves.  Meaning:  he comes into the ninth innings of games where your team is ahead by 1 to 3 runs, tasked with the charge of getting the final out(s) of the ballgame.  My recommendation to you:  don’t think about it too hard.  Don’t let the lack of logic dictate your emotional response.  Don’t wonder why you wouldn’t put your best reliever in the highest leverage situation, regardless of whether it counts as a “save” or not.  Hell, don’t acknowledge the fact that the “save” is inherently a non-essential statistic.  If you’re smart enough to know that saves are bullshit, and defined bullpen roles are useless and counter-intuitive, then you’re smart enough to know that THIS is the sport you’ve decided to spend your lives obsessing over:  the game isn’t going to radically change its most basic principles just because one subsect of its fanbase finds something totally and completely ridiculous.

Or, to put it in other words:  if you don’t like it, then you can GIT OUT!

America is baseball and baseball is America.  They rarely change or make concessions for their intellectual elite (of which, I should point out, I do NOT consider myself a member; I’m more “Intellectual Above Average” on my best day, but I’ll gladly welcome anyone who wants to lavish praise upon me).  Fernando Rodney is our closer, and he’s going to come into Save Situations whether we like it or not.

My problem with Fernando Rodney is:  he tries to get too cute.  He falls in love with that change up like he’s fucking Pedro Martinez or something.  I used to be irritated with David Aardsma because all he did was pump the strike zone with fastballs; his secondary pitches were pretty much useless and so he just hardly ever threw them.  David Aardsma, though, was one of the most effective closers the Seattle Mariners have ever had (currently 4th on the all time franchise list with 69 saves, which would be depressing as fuck-all if it wasn’t hilarious … 69 …).  Why was he effective?  Because he went with what worked.  His fastball was as straight and flat as it gets, but he threw hard and he induced more weak contact than strong contact.

Fernando Rodney has a good fastball.  It beats the hell out of Aardsma’s, because it also has natural movement.  So, WHAT THE FUCK is he doing dicking around with David DeJesus to lead off the ninth inning last night?  Just pump his ass full of fastballs and let him get himself out!  Don’t hand-deliver him a change up in the middle of the zone and let him jack it out of there for the game-tying blown save!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Fernando Rodney is dumb.  He’s a big, dumb animal disguised as a pitcher.  He has two pitches – fastball & change up – that he throws in the area of the plate and lets their natural movement dictate whether they’ll induce outs or not.  Don’t ask him to hit spots!  Don’t ask him to intelligently work a hitter by changing his eye level or forcing him to over-think what’s coming next.  If it happens, it’s dumb, blind luck, because once the ball leaves his hand, Fernando Rodney has no control whatsoever as to what that ball is going to do or where it’s going to end up.

Next time you see him in a game, don’t watch Rodney, watch the catcher.  Watch where the catcher sets up his body, watch where he puts his glove before the pitch is thrown, and watch where that glove ends up once the ball is caught.  RARE is the pitch where the catcher doesn’t have to reach wildly across his body to collect the baseball thrown by Fernando Rodney.

I say all this, and yet I know in my brain that Fernando Rodney hasn’t been THAT bad.  Or, at least, the results haven’t been that bad.  He’s even had a small number of 1-2-3 innings that have been a shock to us all.  Nevertheless, this is how it’s going to be for the next season-plus.  Closers are going to blow saves from time to time.  It happens.  It’s frustrating – all the moreso when it happens after a Felix or Iwakuma start – but it happens.  They’re not perfect.  And, if they are, it’s always an anomaly.  Fernando Rodney already HAD his anomaly season, in 2012; that’s not going to happen again.  You’re not going to see the guy with the sub-1 ERA and the 2 blown saves all season.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get the Fernando Rodney from 2013 with the sub-4 ERA and the 8 blown saves.

8 blown saves isn’t the worst thing in the world.  That’s, like, a little over one per month.  It becomes a problem if, over the next week or two, he comes out and blows another 3 or 4 saves (or, as it’s known around here, The Brandon League Special).  A quick check of the calendar shows that we don’t have any games in Cleveland, Chicago, or Baltimore anytime soon, so I think we’ll be okay.

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