Mariners Bullpen Blows It, Offense Walks It Off In The Ninth

Yeah, I don’t care, I’m bringing back the phrase Walk Off, even if the winning team doesn’t walk in the winning run!  COME AT ME BRO!

Sam Gaviglio got the start yesterday, and like Christian Bergman the day before, he was greatly effective.  Five shutout innings, on 3 hits and 1 walk, with 2 strikeouts.  Considering it sounds like he wasn’t TOTALLY stretched out – I kept hearing about how the Mariners were only expecting to get four innings out of him – that was quite the amazing performance.  Once again, someone else who has leapfrogged Chase De Jong on my Chase De Jong scale.

The Mariners’ offense did some work early, with Dyson pulling a solo homer in the third, and with Segura jacking a 3-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.  They turned things over to the bullpen with a 4-0 lead, and I dunno, maybe I’m shortsighted.  I figured a day after Bergman spun his magic, and Pazos cleaned up after him, we’d have a more available bullpen with which to work.  But, apparently the plan was to get whatever they could out of Gaviglio, and then immediately turn the ball over to Casey Lawrence for something resembling long relief.

I would argue, once you get five innings out of the 10th starter you’ve used this season, and once your offense gives you a 4-0 lead, you don’t mess around.  By all means!  Use Casey Lawrence!  You brought him into the organization, you called him up, it’s the least you can do.  When you’ve got four full innings of relief to spread around, the bottom man in the bullpen is good enough to throw in there in the sixth inning.  And, to his credit, Casey Lawrence did a fine job.  Other than an infield single, he got the White Sox out in order.  Bingo bango bongo.

So, WHY would you bring him back out for the seventh???

Double to left, homer to left, 4-2 Mariners.  I don’t get it.  Everybody should’ve been fresh-enough!  You go one inning per reliever, use up four relievers, and you worry about Friday on FRIDAY!

Thankfully, Lawrence was able to settle down and finish out the seventh, but it could’ve gotten REALLY hairy there if he didn’t.  At that point, still with the 2-run lead going into the eighth, I was at least moderately confident we could get this thing to the ninth with a lead.

WRONG.

I don’t really blame Servais for using Altavilla in this spot, though I understand if you do.  He was coming off of a real bonzer outing two days earlier, but before that he’s been inconsistent as the day is long.  In gratitude for Servais’ confidence in him, Altavilla got the first two outs of the inning, then gave up back-to-back solo homers to tie the game.  Just brutal.

But, you know, what can you do?  Edwin Diaz was just demoted and is working on his mechanics; I think they’re looking for a softer landing for him than eighth inning set up man.  Steve Cishek just came off the DL and he too just blew a game recently.  Tony Zych is apparently also being handled with kid gloves.  Even though he was used three straight days from May 13th through the 15th, I guess he needs three full days off to recover?  I dunno.

What I do know is that it was pretty clear they were saving Nick Vincent for the ninth.  With Overton being saved for Sunday in all likelihood, that only left Scrabble as a possible eighth inning guy, but there were a bunch of right-handed bats coming up that inning, so Altavilla was the guy.  Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just telling you my theory on this whole thing.

Still doesn’t totally forgive putting Lawrence out there for a second inning, because that guy was already terrible when we got him, and it’s not like joining the Mariners is going to magically fix all his issues.

Anyway, Vincent got through the ninth inning without incident, and there we were, the bottom of the ninth.  I was tired, hoping to get to sleep in the near future; I’m sure the Mariners were tired; it was a long, cold night.  The bottom of the order got things going.

Taylor Motter’s leadoff single was erased by a subpar sac bunt by Dyson, but in a way if you had to choose who you want standing on first, you certainly would rather have Dyson there via the fielder’s choice.  Obviously, in an ideal world, the bunt would’ve worked and they both would’ve been safe, but that’s neither here nor there.  Unfortunately, with a lefty on the mound, Dyson couldn’t steal second.  He did run on a 3-2 count to Ruiz, who grounded out, thus allowing Dyson to advance to second.  With two outs, they walked Jean Segura, because that guy is a machine; plus I’m sure they liked the lefty/lefty matchup with Gamel coming to the plate.

Except, Guillermo Heredia was still on the bench (getting a rest day, with Boog Powell getting the start), so he came out to pinch hit.  Blowers noted that the White Sox had a righty warming up in the bullpen, so I figured it was academic:  they’d bring him in to face Heredia, and we’d go from there.

Instead, they left the lefty in there, Heredia knocked a single to right-center, and Dyson came flying around to score the WALK OFF run.  Just like Servais drew it up, right?

All in all, a nice little win for a desperate team.

In Injuries Rule Our Lives news, Paxton, Felix, Kuma, and Smyly all threw baseballs this week.  Paxton actually threw a legit bullpen, and is looking to do a rehab start in the near future.  Mitch Haniger is setting out for a rehab assignment of his own this weekend, with the hope that maybe he’ll be able to return during the next road trip.  As always, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The Mariners Won Their First Non-Paxton Shutout Of The Season

It’s true.  The Mariners have won four shutouts this season; the first three of them were on the arm of James Paxton.  Yesterday?  The pitcher of record was … Christian Bergman?

This was Bergman’s third appearance for the Mariners this season.  In his first outing, he piggy-backed on a Dillon Overton start, outshining the lefty by going 3.2 innings, giving up just 1 run.  He got the start five days later against Toronto in a losing effort, going 5 innings and giving up 3 runs (in a game where the Mariners were shut out).  So, you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t really know what to expect out of him against the A’s last night.  Of the mediocre Quad-A starters/long relievers the Mariners have employed this season (De Jong, Overton, Weber, Marshall, and Heston), Bergman has looked the most reliably effective.  But, again, VERY small sample size.

Regardless, I don’t think anyone expected Bergman to go 7.1 innings of shutout ball, giving up 2 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 9.  Those are elite starter’s numbers by a guy whose fastball is Jamie Moyer-esque!

I won’t say “the pressure was on” or anything ridiculous like that, because all of these games are equally meaningful (in spite of the fact that they feel less important with each passing Mariners defeat), but I will say that he picked a great time to have the best game of his career.  I know I keep harping on the 8-man bullpen thing, but those guys have been seriously over-worked lately!  You wouldn’t think it’d be possible, but you also have to take into account the fact that the Mariners have to hold back some of these long relievers so they can be spot starters later (when the next injury inevitably crops up), so it’s not like the Mariners actually have an 8-man ‘pen at all.  So, for Bergman to pitch into the eighth inning, and for James Pazos to go the rest of the way (without the need for someone else to start warming up behind him), it was just what the doctor ordered.

In “The Mariners Make A Transaction Every Day” news:  Chase De Jong was sent back to Tacoma in favor of an extra reliever, Casey Lawrence.  Lawrence was recently DFA’d and looks pretty terrible, but it also seems like he’s just here temporarily until we can replace him with someone better.  De Jong wasn’t really making any progress as a starter, and it’s safe to say Bergman has officially lapped him on the depth chart, so to speak.  James Paxton is up and throwing again, with no ill effects so far, so the hope is he goes out on a rehab assignment and returns to the Mariners by month’s end.  As for who starts for De Jong in the next turn in the rotation, I haven’t the foggiest, but the tea leaves are pointing to Dillon Overton again.

With Cano still on the shelf, it’s nice to see Cruz and Seager step up of late.  And Jean Segura has been a godsend at the top of the order (which makes me uncomfortable when people talk about him being trade bait later this summer, when the Mariners officially give up on the season).  Ben Gamel got back on the horse with 2 hits last night (including a triple in the first) and a run scored.  Boog Powell and Guillermo Heredia also got in on the act last night, which was nice to see.

The White Sox come to town for a 4-game set, starting tonight.  Sam Gaviglio will make his first-ever start in the Major Leagues a week after making his Major League debut in relief against the Blue Jays, going 2 innings, giving up 1 run.

The Mariners apparently traded for Gaviglio last year with the Cardinals, for infielder Ty Kelly.  He worked his way from AA to AAA, putting himself in a position to get the start tonight.  I hardly remember what his stuff looks like from a week ago, because all of these guys are starting to look the same to me, but considering he’s the TENTH different starter the Mariners will have used (a mere 6.5 weeks into the season), I don’t have the highest of hopes for his success.  The bar for me right now is Chase De Jong.  If he’s better than De Jong, we’ve got a shot.  If he’s worse than De Jong, it’s going to take a heroic effort from our offense.  And, considering good ol’ TBD is scheduled to start for the Mariners on Sunday, I’ll repeat myself:  Christian Bergman couldn’t have picked a better time to save this bullpen.

Every Mariners victory this month feels like five, because they’re so unexpected and so unlikely.  The mantra continues to be:  hang in there until guys come back, and I don’t think that’s going to change at least until the July trade deadline.  But, that mantra also dies a little more with every new injury and I don’t know how much more I can take of this tug o’ war with my soul.  It’s probably too much to ask for a nice, long winning streak, or for guys to return from injury without other guys immediately going down, but I’d sure like to rest easy for a spell.

Mariners Tidbit 39: Potential In-House Replacements For Taijuan Walker

Taijuan Walker feels like the clubhouse leader for most disappointing Mariners pitcher of 2015 (which puts him in the running with Dustin Ackley for most disappointing player on the 25-man roster).  Don’t you just get the sense that every fifth day, we’re in for a real clunker?  He’s been so shitty this year, he hasn’t missed a start and yet he STILL doesn’t qualify for the E.R.A. title because he doesn’t have enough innings pitched!  Not that he’d be anywhere NEAR that title, with his team-worst 7.33 dragging the collective unit down with his sub-mediocrity, but it’s insane that he doesn’t even qualify.

Taijuan Walker has started 9 games this year.  He’s gone 6 innings or more in two of those games.  6 innings is NOT asking a lot out of a starter!  And yet, here is 20% of our starting rotation who has more games with fewer than 5 innings pitched (4! out of 9!) than he does with 6 innings or more.  It’s pretty obvious that he’s not ready to be an everyday Major League starter, but unfortunately, there hasn’t been much of anything the Mariners could do about it.

Hisashi Iwakuma probably won’t be back before the All Star Break in July.  I’m wondering if he’ll even be back before the rosters expand in September.  In case you haven’t looked at a calendar yet, there’s a huge chunk of games between now and the Break (and an even huger chunk between now and September).  It’s too early to be thinking about a trade (as teams rarely give up on guys before the month of July, as they don’t want their fanbase to get wise to the fact that they’re nowhere near contention), but I don’t even want to speculate on trades anyway.  There’s a near-infinite number of possibilities for the Mariners outside the organization, but here’s the deal:  all of our potential prospects to trade away are already at the Major League level.  Nobody wants Dustin Ackley, so stop believing that the Mariners can just trade him for Cole Hamels straight up (or package him with one of our under-performing short stops, because it’s NOT ENOUGH, YOU BLOODY BOWSERS).  Probably the best prospect the Mariners could trade would be Taijuan Walker, and are you really that excited to trade him away just yet?

For as much as I may be ripping on the guy for his performance this year, I don’t think I want him pitching for another organization.  I just think he needs to work on his secondary pitches in the minors.  Given how he was injured for most of last year, it’s not like he’s had this huge bounty of innings pitched in the upper minors.  The way he’s getting slapped around – even with his plus fastball – you can tell he’s not hitting his spots and his offspeed stuff could be a lot sharper.

With Iwakuma many weeks away, and ditto any possible trade help, that leaves us with the here and now.  The last week of May, the entire month of June, and upwards of 4 weeks of the month of July depending on various variables.  A huge chunk of games where I don’t necessarily want to see Taijuan Walker starting every day.

The only viable options are sitting there in Tacoma.  At the top of the list, we’ve got Mike Montgomery, who has literally never made an appearance in the Major Leagues.  He’s got lots of mostly-mediocre numbers at the AAA level, leading him into this year where he’s made 8 starts and has a 3.83 E.R.A. across 47 innings with a respectable 40 strikeouts.  One knock against him is that he’s another left-hander, which would mean we’d have 4 lefties in the rotation if he replaced Walker.  Considering he’d probably have the worst stuff of the four, I don’t relish the prospects of his starts (especially the ones away from Safeco).

Next on the list, we’ve got Sam Gaviglio, who has made 9 starts and has a 5.63 E.R.A. (you can see the very-big drop-off, and it really only gets worse from here) across 46.1 innings with 41 strikeouts.  He’s been about as erratic as Walker (a decent game here, a grotesque game there, lots of short outings) and you have to imagine he doesn’t have any of the potential to turn things around as Walker would.  He’s a guy you’d bring up if you needed a warm body, but at the same time he’s not someone you’d promote before Montgomery.

Jordan Pries was starting to turn a corner before he went on the DL in early May.  I have no idea when he’d be ready to pitch again.  Stephen Landazuri was just called up from AA and had a horrific start last Friday, so he’s not ready.  Forrest Snow is a fringe starter who has bounced around from AA to AAA in recent seasons.  He’s been starting for Tacoma for the last three weeks and one wonders if his arm has been sufficiently built up.  Justin Germano is apparently a minor league lifer who’s been starting since the beginning of the month.  He’s coming off of a stinker of an outing – but was sort of okay before that – and he’s not on the 40-man, so that’s another strike against him.

As most of these guys aren’t on the 40-man, that makes a move even more difficult.  When you consider none of these guys are clear upgrades over Walker, you can see why this has been a difficult situation for the organization.  Hell, the Mariners just called up Austin Jackson from the DL and sent down Danny Farquhar to work on some things.  Meaning:  the Mariners would rather go with a temporary 6-man bullpen than DFA Willie Bloomquist.  Or Weeks, but shit man, they have to get rid of one of these guys if they’re going to keep Miller & Taylor on the roster!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Danny Hultzen is still plugging away in AA, trying to build his arm back up.  He’s made 3 starts and gone a total of 8 innings in those starts, so no, he’s not ready either, and he probably won’t be until 2016.

In conclusion, I don’t know if there’s any point in calling for Walker’s head, because I doubt he’s going anywhere, unless the train REALLY goes off the rails.  I’m talking another 3-4 starts where he gives up near-double digit runs.  At that point, I don’t think the team would have any choice but to see what Montgomery can do.  But, I think the Mariners want to wait this out as long as humanly possible to see if either Walker is able to turn things around, or if they can work out a trade for a back-end starter where they don’t have to give up too much.

Sounds exciting, right?  If you want my advice, just watch something else whenever it’s Walker’s turn in the rotation.  Either you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you look at the box score the next day, or you’ll be glad you missed another stinker.