A Roster Shake-Up & A Mariners Victory

One did not necessarily lead to the other, of course, unless you believe in the motivating factor of roster transactions.

The minor move is that Chase De Jong was sent back down to Tacoma – a day after going 4 scoreless innings in relief of Ariel Miranda – in favor of Chris Heston, another spot starter/long reliever type.  Obviously, this was through no fault of De Jong’s, but simply because after pitching 4 full innings, he wasn’t going to be available in relief again for a few days.  And, with this rotation (specifically with guys like Gallardo, who got the start in yesterday’s game), you never know when you’re going to need an extra reliever.

Also, not for nothing, but De Jong and now Heston are merely keeping this spot warm until Steve Cishek works his way back into MLB playing shape, which is probably a week or so away.

The major move made yesterday was the DFA of Leonys Martin.  That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.  I wouldn’t say he was a fan favorite or anything, but I’m sure the fans liked him enough.  He played great defense and he had a good run at the plate just last season.  It seemed like just a matter of time before he’d pick it back up at the plate and at least be passable in the everyday lineup.  But, thanks to the Mariners losing 3 in a row in Oakland – and starting off the season 1-9 on the road heading into yesterday’s game – time is exactly something the Mariners DON’T have a lot of.  This season is going down the toilet in a hurry, and we can’t sit around waiting for all of our slumping hitters to get their collective shit together.  In that sense, you could say the DFA of Leonys Martin is just as much about the entire team as it is about Martin’s own deficiencies.  Which, I’m sure, made the move that much more hard to swallow.  Because, while the fans liked him enough, the players and the coaching staff adored this kid, and I’m sure the move was as painful as it gets.

The thing is, I’m not super convinced it’s a moved that needed to be made.  Right now, we’re a team with just three outfielders, that is, until Jean Segura comes back from the DL, which should be any day now.  When Segura returns, you’ve got Motter who can play there too, but he’s a utility guy who can play anywhere.  He’s also the only guy on the roster who can back up at any infield position (assuming Mike Freeman gets sent back to Tacoma upon Segura’s return).  For all intents and purposes, Danny Valencia becomes your traditional fourth outfielder, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him at first base either.

See, the corresponding move with the Leonys Martin DFA is the calling back up of Dan Vogelbach, who hit .309/.409/.473 in Tacoma, with 3 doubles and 2 homers in 16 games.  The talk is, for now, Valencia rides the pine while Vogelbach gets to start every day.  THIS is a move that’s been about a week overdue, but again, I don’t know if it needed to be made at the expense of Martin.

Here are my concerns:

  1. I’m not convinced Guillermo Heredia is an everyday player
  2. I’m not convinced Dan Vogelbach is ready (or will ever be ready) for the Major Leagues
  3. What do we do if Jarrod Dyson gets injured for an extended period of time?
  4. I also lowkey have my doubts about Taylor Motter, as it feels like the other shoe is about to drop anyday now, and we’re in for an extended stretch of no hitting and lots of strikeouts

The Heredia thing, I think, sort of goes without saying, but let me try to elaborate.  I think he’s okay.  I think he’s a fine fifth outfielder, maybe.  He’s been a big help in the early going, and right now I’d say he’s DEFINITELY playing better than Leonys Martin.  But, I think long-term, Heredia isn’t much more than a Quad-A player.  The speed is great, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t seem to hit it out of the infield very much, and he can’t rely on infield base hits and bunts alone!  He walks about as often as Mike Zunino, which is to say hardly at all, and if he’s not pulling his weight in OBP, I don’t see him adding a whole lot of value with his bat.  He needs to be walking a ton and stealing a ton of bases for him to be an everyday outfielder for us.

The Vogelbach thing, I’ve been harping on for a while.  I just don’t know if he has it.  He’s still pretty young though, so I don’t know if it’s necessarily fair to expect him to have it right out of the gate.  I think he’s going to struggle at least in this early going, which means he’ll fall back into the platoon they’d planned for him and Valencia in the first place.  You gotta figure, at some point, Valencia is going to start hitting for us, and the more he does that, the more he’s going to see the field.  At which point, you’ve sort of got Vogelbach here as a lefty pinch hit bat off the bench.  Is that worth giving up on Leonys Martin?

Because, yeah, what if Dyson has to go on the DL for something?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Martin there, with everyday playing experience?  Without Martin, I guess you slide over Heredia, and maybe call up Ben Gamel as an extra outfielder.  Is that a better situation than what you would’ve had with Martin?

And, if everything else works out, Vogelbach takes the first base job and runs with it, and the rest of our infield stays healthy, that means Motter effectively becomes your left fielder.  But, does increased playing time for Motter equate to decreased production at the plate? You figure pitchers are going to figure him out EVENTUALLY.  Does he have what it takes to re-adjust?  Or, will he flail along and watch his strikeouts skyrocket?

To counter all of my hemming and hawing, you’re probably right to ask:  what would I have done differently?

Well, for starters, do we REALLY need 8 relievers?  I think it was a smart idea to kick off the season, as the starters generally need some time to build their arms up and get their innings-counts up to snuff, but I feel like we’re there now.  Granted, Paxton and Miranda gave us some pretty shitty starts in that Oakland series, but it’s not like the bullpen has been notoriously over-worked or anything!  For the first three weeks of the season, they’ve split a pretty average workload among 8 people instead of 7 (more, really, when you count the guys coming and going from Tacoma).  There’s only been the one extra-innings game, in the third game of the season.  They had a huge homestand and one day off, with another off day scheduled today (and the next two Mondays to boot).  We could have EASILY made it through the next few days (or however long it will take for Segura to come off the DL) with just 7 relievers.  Then, when Segura is ready to return, we send Freeman down like planned, and keep going with a full bench and lots of different lineup options.

Facing a right-handed pitcher?  With Martin in the fold, you can go:  Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Vogelbach (L), Zunino, Dyson (L), Martin (L), with over half your lineup batting from the left side.  Facing a lefty?  You can go Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Motter, Valencia, Zunino, Heredia, with Heredia in center and Motter in left.  I dunno, I’m just spit-balling here, but with Martin you’ve got extra speed on your bench, another lefty hitter for late in games, and extra defense in case the unthinkable happens.  Instead, you waive him for nothing and hope no other team picks him up, and that he’s willing to play for you in Tacoma until it’s time to call him up again.  Seems like a longshot.

***

As for yesterday’s game, it was an 11-1 Mariners victory, to salvage at least not getting swept by the fucking A’s.  For what it’s worth, the Mariners are now 5-9 against the American League West, which obviously is far from ideal.  Also, the Mariners are tied for last in the division with the Angels at 8-12, good for third-worst in the entire league.

Motter hit a grand slam and Cruz hit a 3-run homer.  They combined for 9 of the 11 RBI.  Vogelbach had his first hit and RBI of the season, and played just fine at first base.  Seager had a minor hip issue that kept him from starting, but he was available to pinch hit if needed.  Considering he wasn’t, it’s nice that he has these back-to-back days off heading into the Detroit series.

On the pitching side of things, we finally got a good start out of Gallardo, going 6.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits, with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts.  Zych, Scrabble, and Scribner wiped out the later innings with no damage done.

So, the Mariners need to figure out how to win on the road.  Remember last year, when it was the opposite, and the Mariners had trouble winning at home in the early going?  They were 1-5 in their first home series last year, whereas they were 8-4 on the road and would go on into May 18-7 on the road before coming down to Earth.  How far down?  The 2016 Mariners finished 7 games over .500 at home, and only 3 games over .500 on the road.  That’s because most teams, by and large, are better at home than they are on the road.  So, you could sort of see a turnaround in the 2016 Mariners’ home record coming, even if it did take a while.  Which means the hot start on the road was VERY much to their benefit, and a big reason why they were able to stay in contention for so long.

This year, the Mariners are 6-3 at home, and now 2-9 on the road.  That’s pretty terrible, because while you would expect the Mariners to be good at home, it’s also not inconceivable that the Mariners might be this bad on the road.  In an ideal world, I think you want the Mariners to hover around .500 on the road, and be really good at home; in this world, it’s going to take A LOT of winning to get back to .500 on the road, and it’s going to take maintaining a lot of winning to stay really good at home.  None of this bodes well, and it’s starting to become clear to me that 2017 is going to be a lot like 2015, 2010, and 2008.  Recall those were all years where we were coming off of winning seasons, with heightened expectations, and collapsing under the weight of said expectations.  Same team, different GM/Manager combo.  God I hope I’m wrong.

Of Course The Mariners Lost That Game To The A’s

The Mariners had everything going for them.  Best pitcher in the game through three starts going up against a guy who hadn’t cracked the Majors since 2010.  A quality lineup that had just put up a 10-spot the night before.  The overwhelming majority of the Athletics lineup being average-to-below-average thus far this season.  Everything about this matchup screamed a Mariners victory.

So, yeah, the M’s lost 9-6.  Makes sense.

I kinda want to just throw up my hands and say, “Hey, Paxton just didn’t have it!  It happens!”  But, the first time through the lineup, he actually DID have it.  His scoreless streak to start the season didn’t get snapped until the third inning.  From that point to the end of his night, he was rocked like we haven’t seen since last season.  Four hits in the third tied the game at 3-3, then Paxton settled back down to get out of the fourth inning 1-2-3, then three more hits, a 2-base error, a sac fly, and a walk into the bottom of the fifth inning and he had to be pulled.  The A’s had a 5-3 lead by that point, and cue the “That Escalated Quickly” memes.

But, it DID escalate quickly!  Going into the bottom of the third, the game was going according to plan.  Dyson led off the game with a single, tagged up on a deep fly ball to right, then scored on a Cano RBI single.  Then, in the second, a Motter leadoff double eventually came around to score on a Zunino double.  Leonys Martin, who got on with a fielder’s choice, ended up scoring on an RBI single by Dyson to make the game 3-0.  This was it!  We were exposing an over-matched career minor leaguer in Cesar Valdez, Paxton was dealing, and this game would slowly unravel as a dominating Mariners victory.

Flash forward what felt like 90 seconds, and there we were, down 5-3, needing a Monster Motter 2-run homer to tie the game back up.  From there, it felt like the game could’ve gone any number of directions.  Obviously, the offense was still humming along, and if the bullpen could just keep a lid on things, it was only a matter of time before the Mariners tacked on the game-winning run.

What it ended up being was only a matter of time before the A’s put the M’s away.  The very next half-inning, in fact, when Scribner let the leadoff man get to third base with one out, who ended up scoring on a sac ground out.  The game wouldn’t become out of reach until the next inning, when Dan Altavilla – after getting the leadoff out – walked two guys and surrendered a 3-run homer.  Altavilla, it would seem, has a lot of problems right now.  A lot of problems that will likely require a stint with Tacoma to rectify, because I don’t see how you can trust him in a close game right now, with how his last four appearances have gone.

I turned the game off and went to bed after that.  Sure it was a risk; it wasn’t IMPOSSIBLE that the Mariners would put up a 4-banger to tie the game back up, but I was tired and didn’t much feel like waiting around for that remote possibility.  So, I missed Evan Marshall’s scoreless inning of relief.  And I missed the little mini-rally started by Valencia’s double (who would go on to score to make the final 9-6) in the ninth inning.

The best part of baseball is that there’s almost always another game to play the very next day.  Well, I’ve got good news and bad news:  the good news is this holds true – there is another game tonight – but the bad news is that Felix and Paxton have already pitched the last two days, and we’re staring down the barrel of an Iwakuma-Miranda-Gallardo weekend.  In Oakland, who will probably sweep us right on out of town and into yet another shame spiral.

As it turns out, the worst part of baseball is that there’s almost always another game to play the very next day.  Who knew?

Mariners Wore Their Big Boy Pants, Beat Up Marlins

As I noted on Twitter last night, the Mariners’ hitting with runners in scoring position has gone up 40 points in the last two days.  Shocking, right?  They should change the sport’s name from Baseball to Regression To The Mean.

All it took was going 8 for 19 with RISP to bump it up from .157 to .197.  They still have a way to go to get back to league average, so it’s probably reasonable to expect many more fine offensive days to come.

I fully understand that nobody who’s anybody really cares about batting average with RISP as a stat, because they see it as just hitting.  Good hitters are going to be better with RISP than bad hitters, and it all evens out in the end.  But, I think it’s important.  We talk all the time about pitchers – particularly relievers – in high-leverage situations.  Well, what’s a batter walking to the plate with a runner on second or third base if not a high-leverage situation?

The fact of the matter is, every hitter has the same goal:  get on base.  Take what the pitcher gives you and work a walk, bloop a single, line a double, or destroy a homer.  But, there are always variables.  What’s the score?  A guy is apt to try a little harder in a 0-0 game than he is in a 10-0 game, regardless of whether his team is winning or losing.  Is a runner on base?  Well, that’s an RBI opportunity!  Say what you will about baseball players, but they love batting runners in.  Is that runner on second or third base?  Well, shoot, then all the batter needs to do is hit a single into the outfield to get him home!  Your approach changes depending on the situation.  And, factoring in game score, time of the year, whether your team is in contention for the playoffs or not, the pressure is ramped up.

On the flipside, the pitcher doesn’t want to give up those runners in scoring position!  They’re trying to preserve their ERAs!  So, they’re going to bear down, so to speak.  They’re going to focus a little bit harder on making good pitches to get the batter to do what they want them to do.

And, since the name of the game is to score more runs than your opponent, I’d say hitting with RISP is a pretty important aspect to the game of baseball.  So, I think keeping track of the day-to-day on this thing brings value.  If nothing else, I hope to gain a little more understanding about the game I’ve been following for so long.

Last night, the Mariners came to play from the jump.  Dyson walked to lead off and Cano ended up bringing him home with a 2-run moon shot to right-center.  Cruz followed that up with a blast of his own to make it 3-0.  Thankfully, the Mariners were able to add on, with two more runs in the fourth and one more in the fifth.

In the fourth, Martin got a single and stole second, before advancing to third on a poor pick-off move by the pitcher.  From there, Dyson hit a double down the line the other way, then proceeded to score on a double by Cano that was very close to being his second homer of the night.

In the fifth, Taylor Motter joined the party with a towering homer to left field in the upper deck.  Good golly Miss Molly is this kid fun to watch.

On the pitching side of things, Ariel Miranda had his best outing of the season.  He was perfect into the fourth inning, got into a little bit of a jam with 2 outs in the sixth (giving up back-to-back singles), but got out of it and made it through seven scoreless innings, with 5 strikeouts and 0 walks, on only 4 hits.  Outstanding!

It’s too early to get too excited about Miranda’s performance last night, particularly after his first two underwhelming starts.  But, he’ll be one to watch going forward.  With Smyly injured, with Iwakuma hit or miss, and with Gallardo not likely to impress too much, it’ll be important for Miranda to pick up some of the slack.  For what it’s worth, he looked as good as I’ve ever seen him last night.  Fastball touched 95, he was locating well, and for the most part he kept his off-speed stuff down in the zone.  The key is to do that every time, or most every time.  Up next for him is a game in Oakland; they don’t strike me as an offensive juggernaut.

Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner each got an inning of work.  They were the only two bullpen guys not to appear on Sunday, so that’s fine.  Scribner gave up a hard-luck homer the opposite way in the 9th.  I thought his stuff looked good, I just thought the guy hit a quality pitch out of the park.

I hope the offense continues its hot streak tonight, with Gallardo on the mound.  I’ll never know what to expect from him, but hopefully he’s able to get on track a little bit.

James Paxton Is The Greatest Pitcher Alive

8 innings of 2-hit, 1-walk shutout ball to throw on the pile.  21 innings of 8-hit, 4-walk shutout ball to start the season.  9 more strikeouts to give him 22 on the season.

As Childish Gambino said, “Don’t be mad because I’m doing me better than you’re doing you.”

This was quite the enjoyable game.  Paxton was dealing, but really there was good pitching on both sides, outside of one half inning, where the Mariners scored all five of their runs in winning this thing 5-0.

One out into the bottom of the sixth, Mitch Haniger got it going with a single to left.  He’s got that batting average WAY up, check the slash line:  .292/.393/.542.  Cano got on via an error by the short stop, and Cruz walked to load ’em up.  That brought up Seager, whose power numbers are still lacking, but everything else is starting to climb up to respectability.  He mashed a single into right to score two runs, which knocked out the Rangers’ starter.  Taylor Motter stepped to the plate, flowing mane of hair rustling ever so gently under his batting helmet.  Earlier this week, he had that 3-double game against the Astros and followed it up the very next night with another double and a homer.  Well, he wasn’t able to get any extra-base hits off of Texas on Friday (just a run of the mill single, frowny-face), but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get right back on the horse with a 3-run homer to put the nail in the coffin!

Taylor Motter is hitting .333.  He’s getting on base at a near-.400 clip.  But, his slugging is – get this – .810!  I didn’t realize, when we acquired this utility infielder from the Rays, that we’d be getting the second coming of Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds, but when you’re talking about an .810 slugging percentage, those are the two guys who have ever done that over a full season!  Now listen, obviously I have no delusions of this guy slugging .810 for us all year, that would be clinically insane.  But, what this blog post presupposes is … maybe he will?

The rest of the Mariners didn’t do much of anything else last night, but I don’t care about that.  All I want is all of Haniger’s and Motter’s at bats run on a loop, forever and ever.

I will say that we got a good 9th inning out of Nick Vincent.  Credit where it’s due, he shut the Rangers down before they could even THINK of mounting a comeback.

On the flipside, the M’s went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.  I’m starting to keep a log of everyone’s totals in this category because this team is driving me fucking crazy, and I’ve got some hard data for you.  The Mariners as a team are hitting .157 on the year with RISP.  If you figure league average is somewhere around .250, obviously the Mariners have a ways to go just to get back up to average.  Given the track record of the players we know about, and given how special guys like Haniger and Motter have been in the early going, you’d expect our average with RISP will go up in a hurry, and good times will be right around the corner.

Well, we’ll see.  It’s interesting that the M’s are struggling with RISP even in their wins.  In the 4 wins, the Mariners are hitting 9 for 44 with RISP (.205), which means in the losses, you can really point to a lack of clutch hitting, as their average with RISP falls to .125, with the majority of our losses coming to the Astros, ergo the Astros are skewing our numbers in a big way.

You won’t be surprised at who is sucking our collective wills to live the most in this category.  Valencia is 1 for 10, Martin is 0 for 11, and Zunino is a whopping 1 for 15!  It might shock you that Cruz is also up there, at 2 for 13, which is unacceptable for a cleanup hitter.  But, truth be told, no one is great.  Cano has had the most opportunities and he’s only hitting .250, so pretty much everyone can get a lot more clutch for this team, if it expects to go to the playoffs.

Winning a series is nice.  First series win of the season is under our belt, just 12 games into the season.  But, this feels like it needs to be a sweep, so go out there this afternoon and get the job done!

Blowing A 5-Run Lead For The Mariners Is Child’s Play

Much like the night before, this game started off pretty promising.  The offense jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Mike Freeman hit his first-ever Major League home run in the second inning, and Taylor Motter – the untamable beast – hit a 2-run homer in the third inning to really set things up nicely.  Yovani Gallardo was cruising along, so it should’ve been a cinch for him to go 6 innings and get that quality start.  And, from there, surely our finest bullpen arms would be able to put the game away easy peasy!

Except, starting in the fourth inning, Gallardo decided to give the whole lead away.  Two runs in the fourth & two more in the fifth made it 5-4 Mariners, but at least Gallardo got to qualify for the win!  Because that’s fucking important!  Not the fact that he clearly lost his command way back in the fourth inning and probably should’ve been pulled before he could do any more damage!

But, where would that get us?  As it was, we pulled him after five, and the bullpen STILL managed to more than give the game away.  Scrabble kept it tight in the sixth inning, but Dan Altavilla – ostensibly our best reliever after our closer – wiped away everything by giving up 3 runs in the seventh.  After that, I just turned the fucking game off.

I mean, the game was already a collosal bore, dragging on WAY too long thanks to both starters futzing around on the mound all damn day.  There was no way the Mariners were going to get that lead back.  When the dregs of the bullpen gave up 3 more runs in the eighth, let’s just say I wasn’t surprised.

The obvious point of contention is to look at the offense that didn’t do a God damn thing after the third inning.  That isn’t the way to put most teams away, let alone the Astros who are really fucking good and really have our fucking number.  But, it’s not like there were tons of opportunities.  After the third inning, the Mariners never had more than 1 baserunner in an inning, and all told spread out just three hits.

Quite frankly, this is the type of game I expected to see a lot of this season.  Crappy starting pitching followed by really sketchy bullpen pitching.  The offense did enough to win on many days, but obviously 5 runs isn’t going to cut it every time out for this pitching staff.

This thing sort of goes deeper though.  We’ve had to count on A LOT of young arms this year, less than two weeks in.  Altavilla is 24, having just made the jump from AA late last year.  Dillon Overton is 25 and has just 9 Major League appearances to his name.  Evan Marshall is 26, and has just one full Major League season under his belt.  James Pazos is 25 and had just 18 Major League appearances before this season.  Chase De Jong is just 23 and made his Major League debut in that extra innings Houston loss.  And, hell, our closer, Edwin Diaz is only 23 and is still more or less getting his feet wet as he made the jump from AA last year.  So, you know, don’t be shocked if you see these guys come up here and struggle from time to time.  Also, don’t be shocked if some or all of them ultimately flame out, because we simply don’t know how they’re going to respond when they get punched in the mouth like they’ve been recently.

Also, not for nothing, but the veterans we’ve sprinkled in around them haven’t exactly been world-beaters.  Aside from Scrabble – who’s pitched 2.1 innings in 4 appearances – we’re talking about Nick Vincent (very underwhelming), Evan Scribner (far from ideal), and Casey Fien (who was just outrighted to Tacoma to make room for Evan Marshall on the 25-man roster, and Boog Powell on the 40-man roster).

I’ll say this, the team could REALLY use Tony Zych and Steve Cishek back and healthy.

On the offensive side of things, I can’t help but be dazzled by Taylor Motter, who has 4 doubles and a homer in the last two days.  I said it before, kind of joking, but now I’m serious:  he NEEDS to be the everyday first baseman as long as he’s hitting like this.  Between him and Haniger, they’re in the early running for Biggest Pleasant Surprises (the Dae-ho Lee Award).  The longer Motter hits, the more the team is going to have to play him.  If he becomes a starter (either at first base or in the outfield), we’re going to be talking about this past offseason for many years to come.  Two very big black holes are currently being filled by Motter and Haniger, and if they continue to play well for a full season, it’s going to bode REALLY well for our chances down the stretch.

First thing’s first:  start taking care of business in the division.

Today is an off-day, which I’d say the Mariners desperately need.  Here’s to hoping this weekend goes better than last weekend.

Haniger Giveth and Haniger Taketh Away

Mostly … mostly taketh away.

There’s infinite possibilities of how that game last night could’ve gone, so who’s to say what would’ve happened if Mitch Haniger had made that diving catch in right field in the top of the 6th.  We know one thing though!  We know the Astros wouldn’t have scored 4 runs in that inning, turning a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 lead for the bad guys!

We can also be pretty sure that we wouldn’t have seen Nick Vincent or Casey Fien, unless of course the save would have eventually been blown, but who has the time or the energy to get into all of that?

The Mariners lost.  Again.  Stop me if you heard this one before:  Ariel Miranda was cruising along until the top of the 6th inning … finish it.  I mean, he was by no means perfect, but getting through five innings, having given up only 2 runs, is pretty good for your 6th starter.  Then, in the 6th, he walked back-to-back batters before being taken out of the game, and that was that.  85 pitches thrown.  What’s up with that?  What’s up with these pitchers who tucker out well BEFORE they get to 100 pitches?  Is that what baseball is coming to?

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN???

Fielding aside, Haniger had another fine day at the plate.  He had an RBI double, scored for the 8th consecutive game, and walked 3 times!  His batting average is creeping up there, his on-base percentage if near .400, and he’s leading the team in slugging with exactly .600.  This is quite a player we’ve got our hands on.

Nominal kudos all around.  Dyson used his speed to score from first on that Haniger double.  Cano had 2 RBI.  Chooch Ruiz took a nasty hit off the arm and came around to score.

Jean Segura landed on what’s now the 10-Day DL with that hamstring issue.  I, for one, LOVE that they changed the DL from 15 days to 10, mostly because I was sick and tired of the Mariners keeping guys active even though they were hurt, and fiddling with the roster to make sure we had enough backups to survive a few days.  This way, Segura gets to rest up and fully heal, while also not missing a full 2 weeks’ worth of games.  Mike Freeman was called up and got some pinch hit duty in the 9th inning, coming around to score.

Taylor Motter started at short for Segura and was far and away the offensive star of the night.  He went 3 for 4 with 3 doubles, scoring once.  It’s going to be REALLY helpful if he can be good, because I don’t know how much more I can watch of Danny Valencia.  On top of being just the God damn worst at the plate, Valencia dropped a foul ball pop up that could’ve spared us this game lasting until almost fucking 11am.  People are praising his defense like it’s anything special and not absolutely replacement level.  In which case, how fucking terrible is Dan Vogelbach?

I’m having a hard time blaming the offense for this one.  But, again, 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, including 1 for 4 out of Cano.

But, yeah, this one is on the defense, at least for me.  It was a tough play, but Haniger has to make that catch.  If you’re going to base your entire outfield philosophy on Defense First, then those guys have to make the defensive plays most other outfielders can’t.  They have to make the amazing, Sportscenter Top 10-type plays.  Otherwise, what are we doing here?  Yeah, it’s nice that Haniger is doing so well at the plate, but that doesn’t mean he can contribute to giving away a lead because he can’t catch a ball that hit him square in the glove!

Everyone just needs to be better, starting right now.  Also, rejoice in the fact that after tonight, we don’t have to play the fucking Astros again until late June.  Maybe by then half their roster will be dead.  Particularly the George Springer half, because fuck that guy.

Ariel Miranda & Dan Vogelbach Will Start The Season In Tacoma

The end of Spring Training is nigh, and as such, the Mariners are whittling their roster down to what will become the Opening Day 25.  In that hullabaloo, some interesting decisions have been made.

From the beginning, most of the beat writers and such have been predicting that Ariel Miranda would start the season in the Mariners’ bullpen, as a second – or even a third – lefty.  This was before his last three starts, where he gave up a combined 10 runs (9 earned) in 8.2 innings, with 7 walks and 7 strikeouts.  The spin is the organization wants to keep him starting, in case he needs to come up and replace someone in our rotation, but the fact of the matter is the Mariners were planning on taking the best pitchers regardless of whether they started or not.  Ariel Miranda isn’t pitching like one of the top 12 or 13 pitchers on this roster, so he gets to go to Tacoma for a while to figure it out.  A promising start early in Spring Training comes to a disappointing close.  Hopefully he gets back on track pretty quickly, because I know we’re going to need him at some point.

The other surprise move is Dan Vogelbach being optioned to Triple-A.  He had been pencilled in as the team’s starting first baseman; the only concern the team had was whether or not he could handle the defensive duties.  From the sounds of things, he’s been okay, but could probably use a little work.  The spin is the oranization is treating this like a James Paxton/Mike Zunino situation from last year:  they want him to work on improving his game in the comfort and anonymity of Tacoma, until the time is right and he’s called back up.  The fact of the matter is, his defense is probably good enough, but after the first week or so of Spring Training, his hitting has gone down the toilet.  Which is kinda what I predicted all along:  something always suffers when you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Dan Vogelbach isn’t a natural first baseman.  He’s really just a DH that the team needs to shoehorn into a defensive spot to justify having him on the roster.  So, he’s been scrambling to work on the ins and outs of the first base position, and as a result his hitting has taken a backseat.

Like I’ve always said, it’s so much easier to bring up a prospect if he’s got the defensive part down pat.  Because, even if you’re a supposed natural at the plate in the minor leagues like Vogelbach is, there’s ALWAYS going to be a learning curve when you make the jump to the Majors.  Guys who only have to worry about one part of their games always have an easier go of it than guys who have to worry about both.

It’s too early to pull out the Bust label, but this is definitely an opening salvo.  Something tells me the first base position is going to be another need going into 2018.

With Shawn O’Malley having recently had an emergency appendectomy, it’s looking more and more like Taylor Motter will be the utility infielder (including backup first baseman).  As Motter and starter Danny Valencia are both righties, we lose that first base platoon, so I hope Valencia gets good at hitting right-handed pitching in a hurry.

This feels like a setback, but a minor one that we should have no trouble overcoming.  I always kind of expected Valencia to play closer to an everyday role anyway; I just thought he’d split more time between first base and right field.  Our depth takes a bit of a hit, but that just means guys like Motter, Haniger, and maybe Heredia have to pick up the slack.  I’m going to be REALLY interested to see how those guys perform if they make the Opening Day roster.

In other news, the Mariners say they’re going with an 8-man bullpen to start the regular season, and we’re all having a tough time predicting who those guys will be.  Particularly with guys like Cishek and Zych coming back from injury, and with Miranda and a few others already getting demoted to Tacoma.

  1. Edwin Diaz
  2. Evan Scribner
  3. Nick Vincent
  4. Marc Rzepczynski
  5. Dan Altavilla?
  6. James Pazos?
  7. Casey Fien?
  8. Some guy on another team we acquire in trade?

Yeah, I dunno.  I guess we’ll see.

Who Are Our Mariners Spring Training Darlings Thus Far?

Just a God damn black hole of sports nothingness going on.  REALLY need the NBA to come back to Seattle …

The fun part about Spring Training is seeing the guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere.  Going into the season, you know who the stars are going to be, and you know those guys mostly use the month of March to work on their timing and rounding into everyday playing shape.  But, for the younger, fringe guys, sometimes their careers depend upon what they’re able to show in this limited period of time.  It’s the difference between starting the season in Tacoma vs. Seattle, or the difference between staying in the Mariners’ organization vs. becoming eventual trade or DFA fodder down the road.  Have you done everything the coaches have asked of you?  Have those changes improved things?  Do you have what it takes to contribute to the Big League club?

For the 2017 Mariners, there are fewer open spots than ever before.  This team is mostly set at most of its positions.  There are some backup outfield and bullpen spots up for grabs, but that’s about it.

Of course, the worst part about Spring Training is seeing those guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere, and then seeing them turn back into pumpkins once the games start meaning something.  So, it’s important to remember that with Spring Training, it’s not just a small sample size, but an inflated sample at that.  Balls are easier to hit in that warm Arizona air.  Minor league pitchers show up with more regularity, and often are the ones throwing to those minor league hitters whose numbers are popping.

Yes, it’s important to show up in Spring Training, but it’s VASTLY more important to show up in the regular season.  So, let’s take a look at some of the guys who are kicking ass now, and hope beyond hope that they continue kicking ass in the future.

I think the names that are generating the most excitement thus far are Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia.  Both are hitting well over .400, both have 6 extra-base hits, and both are coming up huge in the clutch to bat runners in.  Haniger has a little more upside in the power department, but Heredia has more upside in the speed department, so both have a lot of value.  They’re also getting a ton of playing time, considering they’re trying to win jobs in that crowded outfield.  We know Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson are locks, but that right field spot – when Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia aren’t there – is up for grabs, and it might come down to the last day of Spring Training before that job is won.  It’s probably unrealistic to expect both of these guys to carry their numbers over into April – indeed, it’s WAY more likely that neither of them are worth a damn in the regular season – but if just one of them can do it, I’d be a very happy camper.

Behind those guys, we’ve got the following utility players:  Boog Powell, Taylor Motter, Ben Gamel, Shawn O’Malley, and Mike Freeman.  Powell is another guy looking to make an impression in the outfield, but he’s at a significant disadvantage considering he’s technically still suspended for using steroids or some damn thing.  Fortunately for him, he’s hitting .500 as of this writing, and earning lots of commendations from the coaching staff.  I’d look for him to be an everyday player out of Tacoma when he comes off suspension, but he’s definitely a guy who could work his way to Seattle if he keeps at it.  Ben Gamel has really had a nondescript spring thus far, which doesn’t bode well considering how Heredia and Haniger have played.  What he’s got going for him is that he bats lefty, while Heredia and Haniger are both righties, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to keep him in Seattle on Opening Day.  He’ll need a big surge in production these next couple weeks.

Shawn O’Malley probably has the inside track for the utility infielder position, given that he’s probably the best defensive short stop of the bunch.  He’s certainly underwhelming from an offensive standpoint, with a complete and utter lack of power, but the fact that you can put him almost anywhere on the field is his biggest selling point.  I know less about Taylor Motter, but his Spring Training hitting numbers are certainly more promising.  While defense is important in a utility bench guy, if one of our infield starters has a significant injury that causes them to miss a lot of games, it wouldn’t shock me to see Motter usurp O’Malley as the guy who plays everyday.  And, then there’s Mike Freeman, who has already been outrighted to Tacoma.  Barring a trade, he’ll probably start there until Seattle has an injury need, in which case you could do a lot worse than Mike Freeman.

The final fringe guy I’ll talk about is Dan Vogelbach.  He’s obviously slated to be the left-handed platoon partner at first base, and thus far he’s done pretty well for himself while garnering the most at-bats of anyone.  It’s pretty obvious the Mariners want to give him as much work as possible, to ensure his defense is up to snuff, as well as to see if he can hit Major League pitching.  It’s a little concerning he only has 2 doubles and no homers to date, but from what I’m hearing he’s hitting to all fields, working counts, and getting on base with regularity.  It’s better than nothing (i.e. Logan Morrison).

I’ll close by talking about Leonys Martin a little bit.  He’s hitting a whopping .179 with no walks and 3 doubles to his name, which is somewhat concerning.  When you figure he’s slotted to be our everyday centerfielder, we’re going to need more than that at the plate.  Apparently, he’s been working on his swing, to cut down on strikeouts, and at least that looks like it’s working (only 3 K’s in 28 at-bats).  The saving grace for Martin is that while it’s true that you shouldn’t get too excited about really great Spring Training numbers, you also shouldn’t get too depressed about really poor Spring Training numbers.  As I said before, a lot of the veterans are just getting their work in, and don’t really flip the switch until April.  While Martin certainly falls in that veteran category, he’s still a guy who shouldn’t totally dismiss working on his offense, considering that’s the part of his game that needs the most work.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the pitching.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Mitch Haniger

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Okay, this is it.  The end of the line for this series.  I wasn’t even going to include Mitch Haniger in this thing, but I feel like wrapping this up on a Friday has a nice feel to it.  I can start next week fresh, writing about something else.

Mitch Haniger is an unknown at this point.  He’s a lottery ticket for this team.  He came over in the Taijuan Walker/Jean Segura deal, and certain pockets of Mariners fandom are pretty high on Haniger’s prospects in ways that are baffling to me.  Yeah, it looks like he’s more or less mastered the upper minors and is ready to get his shot in the Big Leagues, but we’ve seen billions of those guys and how many actually pan out?

Haniger got his first call-up in Arizona in August of last year and played more or less every day.  That having been said, obviously there’s not a lot you can learn from 34 games.  If he earns his way onto the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, that likely will mean he’s the best of a pretty mediocre group of Quad-A outfielders.  Ideally, with his feet wet last year, it all won’t feel so big to him anymore and he can just come up here and play like he always has.

The thing is, the Mariners need SOMEONE to play right field.  For the time being, Haniger has the inside track, but it could be anyone’s job to lose, from Ben Gamel to Guillermo Heredia to Taylor Motter to Boog Powell to who knows what.  I think everyone’s in agreement that Haniger has the best pedigree, and therefore the best opportunity to blow up, so in that sense he gets the majority of the focus.

If he fails, the team can always fall back on Danny Valencia moving to right field on a more permanent basis, but that move would also hinge on Dan Vogelbach panning out at first base, which I feel is as much of a given as it is for Haniger to lock down the right field spot.

There are two unproven guys on this team getting real shots at Major League careers:  Haniger and Vogelbach.  It’s concerning, particularly for a team looking to break a long playoff drought, but it beats the hell out of what we’ve had around here since forever.  Usually, instead of two of these guys, it’s six, and all of them stink.  We’ll see I guess.

I’m going into the season banking on right field being an offensive black hole whenever Nelson Cruz or Danny Valencia aren’t starting there.  So, if I get anything out of Haniger & Co., it’ll be gravy.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jarrod Dyson

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Remember the days when the Mariners could hardly cobble together ONE centerfielder?  Remember when Jason Bay of all people actually got some play there?  Now, the Mariners have approximately 1 billion centerfielders, and we’re all the better for it.

We got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals for Nate Karns, which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but remember how not worth a damn Karns was last year?  Remember how the Mariners are trying to “Win Now”?  You see how you scum.  You get the idea.

In a vacuum, acquiring Dyson is nothing to get one’s panties wet over.  You’re talking about a slap-hitting defense-first outfielder, for crying out loud.  But, in context, it’s hard to dislike the move.  For starters, we get to pair him with Leonys Martin to showcase the best defensive 1-2 punch of any outfield.  He’s also, not for nothing, a competent backup should Martin get injured.  And, with the likelihood of a Ben Gamel/Mitch Haniger/Taylor Motter/Guillermo Heredia in right field, you’re talking about one of the best – if not THE best – defensive outfield in Major League Baseball.  And, shush, even if you have to run Danny Valencia or *shudder* Nelson Cruz over in right, you’re not losing a whole helluva lot by having Dyson and Martin covering as much ground as they do.

Then, when you stop to consider this pitching staff – a staff that gives up a lot of contact and a lot of fly balls – and how much it’s likely to struggle this year, a top-notch defensive outfield is just what the doctor ordered.  Let’s face it, we’re going to get PLENTY of offense out of our infield and DH; maintaining an elite run-saving defense could be the difference in getting those last few victories to get us over the hump and into the playoffs.

Now, obviously, the elephant in the room is Dyson’s offense.  We’ve had terrible visions of slap-hitting, defense-first outfielders over the years (when they’re not power-hitting, defense-last lumbering oafs, that is); it seems like these little guys are the only ones we’re able to work through our minor league system.  The last time we were able to cultivate a complete outfielder, we traded him away to the Orioles with a bunch of other guys for Erik Bedard.  So, you know, what makes Dyson stand out over all the other humps we’ve run through here?

He’ll hit you anywhere from .250 to .280, depending on the season.  As I alluded to before, he’s got next-to-no power (6 homers in the last 5 seasons), aside from maybe a few singles he’s able to stretch into doubles.  He gets on base at a decent-enough clip to see him spend a significant amount of time near the top of the lineup, but I have to figure there will be peaks and valleys that will see him drop to near the bottom of the lineup at times as well.  The biggest draw with someone like Dyson – particularly when you bat him high in the lineup – is his speed on the basepaths.  156 stolen bases the last five seasons, which doesn’t even get into how many times he’ll go from first to third on a single, or score from first on a double, and so on and so forth.

One would think, on an offense like this, if he played everyday, he’d approach 100 runs scored, so long as he put up quality on-base numbers.  But, given that he’s never really been an everyday player in his 7 seasons with Kansas City, I have to wonder if the Mariners won’t do some sort of quasi-platoon with him and our other Quad-A outfielders on this team.

This move has me less hard than the one to bring in Danny Valencia, but I can still appreciate why it was made and what Dyson brings to the table.  If things break right for him this year, he could be a big part of this team’s success both defensively and offensively.  Considering he’s another one in a contract year, he has every reason to come into 2017 ready and raring to go.