It feels like forever since I wrote about something not Mariners-related, but in reality it’s only been two and a half weeks since I’ve blathered on about the Seahawks (withdrawals-much?). That was a pointless way to start this post and I immediately regret it.
The season is mighty early, but Roenis Elias just pitched the best game of his career last night. I should preface this by saying that the Texas Rangers we’re watching this week aren’t the same Texas Rangers that were once feared as recently as last season. Injuries and free agency have sort of pulled their offensive firepower down to earth. As odd as it sounds, pitching is this team’s strength right now.
Nevertheless, to go down to Texas, in what I assume is still a bandbox of a stadium, and shut down the Rangers through 6.2 innings (as a rookie, having bypassed the AAA level) is mighty impressive.
That isn’t to say Elias was BAD in his first two starts, but he was pretty bad. The results don’t necessarily scream out in the negative, but the eye test certainly does. Last night was the first time he’d gone beyond five innings. We’re in the middle of a stretch where we play 13 games in 13 days, so “quality starts” are a premium right now as the team tries to use its bullpen wisely. Too many 5-inning starts (the Bedard Special) will tax your bullpen, especially during a 7-day road trip.
Moreover, Elias just didn’t look good when he made those first two starts. He had trouble throwing strikes, which brought up his pitch counts. He also had a lot of trouble keeping his off-speed pitches down in the zone. Case in point: the 2-run homer to Albert Pujols on April 9th in a 2-0 loss to the Angels. That was an 80-something mph change in the middle of the upper portion of the strike zone. You don’t EVER want to throw that pitch in that location, but ESPECIALLY to someone like Pujols.
Last night, Elias had that pitch down in the zone, and he got the type of results you’d hope for. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a big volume strikeout guy, but he got five whiffs last night, and he had left handed batters absolutely baffled at times. Also, that hard slider in on right handers should be an effective weapon for him in two-strike counts.
As we all know, there are strikes and there are quality strikes. Last night, Elias was throwing quality, and he dominated accordingly. This is a good sign. The Mariners are pretty iffy in their rotation right now outside of Felix. With Paxton down for Christ knows how long, and Iwakuma still at least another couple weeks off (if not longer, depending on how his finger handles that splitter he uses to strike people out), the Mariners need someone else to step up and fill the void until these guys can return.
We’ve got Felix. If we can count on Elias, that’s a big plus. Throw in Iwakuma, Paxton, and Walker (who should hopefully be back within the next week or so), that’s a starting five I’d be happy to bring home to mother. I no longer trust Erasmo Ramirez will reach his full potential and wonder if he even has what it takes to be a #5 starter anymore. Chris Young is a nice stopgap, but he’s someone I’d MUCH rather see in the long reliever role for the majority of the season. I feel like the more Chris Young we get in the starting rotation, the more diminished our returns will be with him.
If I’m wrong about Ramirez, then great, we’ve got six or seven guys capable of starting in the Major Leagues. Believe me, that’s a GOOD problem to have. Of course, that all hinges on Elias reaching HIS full potential. Last night was a big first step. He faces the Miami Marlins next before a rematch with these very Rangers up in Seattle (on the fabled Beard Hat Night, so I’ll be guaranteed to NOT attend that one).
It’s been a nice little start to a career for Elias. Let’s hope he keeps it up.