Of 4 games. Was damn near 6 games, if we never manufactured the greatest comeback in franchise history last Thursday.
For those of you who don’t mind a little standings-watching in early June, the Mariners have dug themselves quite a hole, as they trail the Rangers by 4 games (for the record, if you DO mind a little standings-watching, go fuck yourselves; seriously, what’s the big fucking deal if I check the standings every now and then?). Obviously, it’s not the end of the world, and there’s a lot of baseball left to play, but it’s crazy how hot the Rangers have been lately (and ohbytheway, they’re going to be in town for another weekend series starting Friday; WILL THE MARINERS BE SWEPT AGAIN? Stay tuned).
As the old saying goes, a really long journey starts with a first step! And that first step for the Mariners was getting off the schneid. They did it in a somewhat improbable way, in that Wade Miley was at the helm of a solid pitching performance! Seven innings of 4-hit, shutout ball was just what the doctor ordered, as the Mariners – behind Nelson Cruz’s two homers – chased Cleveland’s starter in the fourth inning. From there, it was cruise control to the finish and a 7-1 victory.
Aside from the Miley start he so desperately needed to work his way back to respectability, I didn’t find a whole lot about last night’s game very interesting.
Monday’s game, however, is another story.
Granted, Monday’s game was a 3-1 loss for the good guys, as the offense just never could get going. But, the story here was all about the pitching.
James Paxton took the mound for his second start in the Majors this season. He didn’t disappoint. He went 6 innings, holding Cleveland to 5 hits and 1 walk, while giving up 3 runs (1 earned) and striking out a whopping TEN batters. If Chris Iannetta would’ve come down with the throw at the plate – tagging out the runner who ended up scoring – which by all accounts was right on the money and a catch he should’ve made, odds are that game is a lot different. At the very least, you can make an argument that Paxton gets a no decision instead of a loss; at best, who knows if he gives up that solo homer the next inning? Maybe he would’ve gotten a shutout victory!
Nevertheless, Paxton’s performance was absolutely legendary. It has, quite honestly, forced me to re-think my whole stance on his very existence! This is a James Paxton the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been watching him pitch off and on since 2013! He’s always been big, and he’s always been a lefty, and when he’s been healthy, he’s been a promising potential piece of some brilliant future Mariners team. But, of course, he’s never been able to stay healthy – and maybe that’ll continue. All I know is, while he’s been good, he’s never been anything special.
Paxton has always had an okay fastball. I couldn’t tell you where he would average in the past, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the Paxton Of Old; but it feels like he was usually somewhere around 93 mph. That’s an okay fastball. Not great, not elite, but better than the finesse schlubs like Miley and Joe Saunders and the like. Paxton’s issue has always been with his control, working those edges of the strike zone, staying away from the middle of the plate.
But, this year? Shit, he’s topping out at 100 mph! Where the FUCK did THIS come from? And, I’m not just talking about him hitting triple digits in the first inning, before getting tired and settling into the 95 mph range. I mean he’s in there, over 100 pitches, still hitting 100 on the radar gun! With a nasty slider or curve or whatever to keep hitters off-balance.
I mean, are you JOKING me? As I said before, now I have to re-think everything! Going into this year, and even through the first couple months of the season, when Paxton was toiling away in Tacoma, working on his velocity and his command, I had him pegged as prime trade bait. Should the Mariners be in contention at the trade deadline – which it looks like they will be – James Paxton (packaged with another guy or two, perhaps, from the lower minors) could be flipped for another team’s 2-month rental. Whatever this year’s version of David Price is, the ace starting pitcher on the last year of his rookie deal, who will be a difference-maker for a quality team in the post-season that needs an extra little push.
But NOW? After seeing THIS? I mean, obviously, it’s only two starts (of him throwing 100 mph heat), but if this is the new normal for James Paxton, are we better off keeping him, inserting him into the starting rotation for good, and riding him to post-season glory?
Before, Paxton always projected – at least, in my eyes – as topping out as a quality #2 starter. But, with this type of stuff, the sky is the limit. Tall lefty, throwing 100 mph, with a biting slider: that’s ace material. That’s Randy Johnson material. That’s the second coming of The Big Unit, with Mr. Snappy’s command being all the difference between him being a solid mid-rotation pitcher and him being the other ace this team needs (when Felix comes back healthy, of course).
If he keeps this up, this is truly a gift from the gods. If he works out, first of all, I don’t see how you send him back to Tacoma. Either you ride with a 6-man rotation, or you make a tough call on Walker or Karns (with the way Walker’s been pitching over the last month, that call might not be so tough if it continues). But, if this works out, and we get ace production from this unlikeliest of sources, then if we do need to make a deal at the deadline, it won’t necessarily have to be for a starting pitcher! We can use that to shore up the bullpen, or bolster some of our hitting depth, or fix some other hole that comes up at the time.
Oh yeah, and don’t think I’m sitting here sleeping on Edwin Diaz.
In the very same game where Paxton was as dominant as he was, Edwin Diaz made his Major League debut. Previously a minor league, AA starting pitcher with issues (mainly that he doesn’t have a quality third pitch to get lefties out on a consistent basis), the Mariners – earlier this very season – converted him to a reliever (because relievers are better able to get away with only having two quality pitches, especially when one of them is the fastball Diaz is sporting). After making essentially five starts, Diaz had all of 11 appearances where he went 2 innings or less (“relief” appearances, for all intents and purposes). In those appearances, he pitched a total of 13.2 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), 7 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 19.
That was, apparently, all that mattered for the Mariners. To be fair, the M’s have been struggling with that final bullpen spot. Joel Peralta turned back into a pumpkin, and we’ve seen guys like Mayckol Guaipe, Cody Martin, and Steve Johnson all occupy that spot, with varying results. While Johnson is still on the roster, he’s not a guy you want to count upon in high-leverage situations. Tony Zych had a setback recently and doesn’t appear to be close to returning. So, essentially, the Mariners have been relying on a 5-man bullpen, and those guys were getting seriously over-worked. If we’re content with Steve Johnson being the last man in the bullpen (to be used during blowouts and as a last resort in extra innings situations), the team desperately needed another quality arm it could mix into the rotation in the 7th and 8th innings. Enter Edwin Diaz.
Like Paxton, Diaz also hits triple digits on the radar gun (topping out at 101 mph). Unlike Paxton, Diaz has a lot of run on his fastball, making it remarkably more difficult to hit. And, for a 22 year old kid making the leap from AA to the Majors, in his first-ever appearance, he had absolutely no trouble whatsoever locating the strike zone (10 of his 11 pitches were strikes). He ended up striking out 1 batter in his first perfect inning, before returning to the dugout to a standing ovation from the home crowd. All in all, not a bad start to a career.
As I said before, this could also be a gift from the gods. I’ve said all along the Mariners needed another top-notch starter; and I think we’ve all been in agreement that the bullpen could use a little life injected into it. With Diaz, maybe we’ve found that guy (yet again, saving us from later having to trade for that guy). As Zych and Furbush get healthy, there will be a roster crunch, but that’s a GOOD problem to have. No one ever complained about having too much quality depth.