Some baseball players work their way through the minor leagues to earn a spot on the 25 man roster of a major league team. Others like Lucas Luetge of the Mariners were drafted from another team. He was drafted from the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system in the Rule 5 Draft and has been an effective left handed reliever.
Now the Mariners have drafted another left hander, soon to be 25 year old Dave Rollins. Unless he is returned to the Houston Astros he will be in Seattle’s bullpen on opening day. In fact he must stay on the roster the entire season and be active for at least 90 days.
In four season he has pitched in 88 games, 64 of which were starts. He is 23-16 with a 3.39 career ERA and averages 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He has good numbers and though he can either start or relieve, he most likely will be used in relief now that Seattle has J.A. Happ in the rotation. Rollins is familiar with Happ, for Rollins was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 24th round of the 2011 draft and was part of a trade that sent Rollins to Houston for Happ. Now they will be happy teammates.
The Mariners have had their eye on Rollins for sometime. They drafted him in the 23rd round of the amateur draft in 2009 and again the next year in the 46th round. He never signed. If Rollins succeeds he will give the Mariners a lot of flexibility. They have nothing to lose except some money to the Astros.
He may not have a name. His coming to Seattle will not get the buzz of a Nelson Cruz signing, or the addition of Happ, but like Luetge, he could end up being valuable.
It is not good to lose two out of three to Houston at home when you are in a wild card race, but the Mariners did just that. For some reason Houston plays Seattle tough, especially against Hisashi Iwakuma. But all is not lost-pardon the pun.
Detroit an Oakland both lost so Seattle did not lose any ground, but there is even better news beginning Monday.
On Monday Seattle begins their last road trip and it is eleven games. Four against the Angels, three against the dreaded Astros, and four against the Blue Jays. That is good because the Mariners win on the road and lose at home It is a strange anomaly that defies baseball logic, but there it is. At home the Mariners are 37-38, but on the road they are amazing, and it is an amazing record of 42-28. That is a .600 winning percentage on the road. Who does that?
Today the Mariners have a day off before hosting Oakland for the weekend. Seattle needs to win two of three before hitting the road. They play Oakland well and Oakland has struggled of late, but that is scary because you expect them to snap out of it. The Oakland series is like a playoff series as both teams are battling for a wild card spot, so these games are huge.
So if Seattle can take two games before hitting the road they will be 81-67 heading into LA. If they can win 6.6-which is .600 percentage they would be the first to have a fraction of a win, so let’s downgrade to six wins. That is 87 wins heading into the last series of the season at home against those Angels, who are anything but. Being optimistic give the Mariners seven road wins and that is 88 with three to go.
If somehow Seattle and go 11-6 in their last 17 games that would give them 90 wins and most probably a wild card game. Even 10-7 might do it.
The countdown begins Friday at Safeco versus the A’s.
May the 8th is the date Seattle opens a weekend home stand with Kansas City. It is important because Seattle will have played their 34th game in Oakland the previous day. In those 34 games, 23 will be played on the road and only 11 at home.
Seattle must play well away from home in order to get off to a good start. The Mariners first home stand saw them split two with the Angels and lose two of three to the A’s. A 2-3 home stand won’t help the Mariners if they falter in road games. They must win or at the least play .500 in foreign ports of call.
They open a four game series in Texas tonight, then three in Miami. After coming home for Houston and Texas, the Mariners go to New York for the Yankees, then to Houston and Oakland before the May 8th game.
What makes the trip difficult is that James Paxton is on the DL, Erasmo Ramirez has had two straight bad starts, Roenis Elias is still an unknown factor, and Chris Young, who pitched six shutout innings against Oakland Sunday in his first start, is attempting a comeback after missing last season. That is a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘hopes.’
Another big question during this period is whether Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker can return to the rotation. And if they are ready, how well can they pitch. The Mariners brought up Blake Beavan, who pitched well in Tacoma, to start Tuesday in Texas. But he had a poor spring camp and poor 2013 season, yet another ‘hope.’
It is possible the bullpen will be tested with so many questions in the rotation, so there may be a shuttle of bullpen pitchers between Tacoma and Seattle to keep the bullpen fresh.
This is why May 8th is important. They must stay close to .500 by sailing rough waters, because if they don’t, as May ends and June begins, the empty seats at Safeco may be plentiful.
Taijuan Walkers will make his major league debut Friday night in Houston. He is only 21, but the Mariners need a reason for fans to tune in to the game against Houston following the disastrous six game home stand that saw Seattle go 0-6 and be outscored 38-12.
Since the Mariners had that streak of winning-yes they had one, honest-when they climbed within four games of .500, they have gone 11-21. Maybe they were getting dizzy with success. Seattle has always been consistently good at losing, not winning.
The Mariners look awful in August and heading the list, sorry to say, is King Felix. He is 1-4 in August with a unlike-Felix earned run average of 5.82. I have no answer, no ideas. If there is an answer, Carl Willis, Mariner pitching coach, would know. If he figures it out, I hope it is soon. Felix could be tipping pitches, his pattern may have become predictable, it may be a release point, it may be a curse. Who knows?
And Hiroshi Iwakuma is struggling a bit at 2-2, 3.97. The best starter is Hector Ramirez at 2-1, 4.03.
Is Taijuan Walker the answer? Not this year. The Mariners are unlikely to stretch him out. His innings will be watched as the Mariners do not want him going to many over 165. Between Jackson and Tacoma he is at 141. So Walker may get three starts, or four, depending on how they want to use him. He strikes out one per inning in his career, and at his age, with ace potential, he will be babied.
I am looking forward to September. College and pro football will be a welcome distraction for my sanity, rapidly deteriorating due to Marineritis of the brain.
I don’t understand Mariner manager Eric Wedge. Monday night against Houston he let Aaron Harang pitch the ninth with a 4-0 lead. I applaud that. When a pitcher is dominating as Harang was, then why bring in another pitcher to finish the game. It was probably a good thing the score was not 3-0, for if it was, Wedge may have brought in struggling closer Tom Wilhelmsen in the 9th. But there is no save with a four run lead. Harang gave up two hits, walked no one, and struck out ten. He deserved to complete the game.
But Tuesday night Wedge did not do the same for Jeremy Bonderman. He pitched eight innings, allowed three hits, walked two and struck out five, throwing only 89 pitches in a dominating performance. Instead of letting Bonderman finish the game, giving the Mariners a chance for two consecutive complete game shutouts from two journeymen pitchers from whom little was expected, he was taken out for Tom Wilhelmsen the Mariner closer.
It is something push button, robotic managers do. Its the ninth inning, closing situation, so bring in the closer. I raise the question again. Why change pitchers when your starter is dominating? If the closer is Mariano Rivera, I give him the ball. But Wilhelmsen has been struggling. Coming into the game Wilhelmsen had given up eight hits, and walked eight in 10 1/3 innings. His earned run average jumped from 0.47 to 2.22 in those 10+ innings. After Tuesdays blown save in which he gave up 3 hits, walked two and was tagged for five runs, his ERA is 3.77. The Bartender is having one bad month.
It happens, all players slump, and Wilhelmsen is the closer, and should close games. But not a 1-0 game when the starter is sailing along, doing fine, thank you very much. Bring in Wilhelmsen with a three or four run lead when he has margin for error. Don’t let him work out his kinks in a one run game. That is tempting the devil called fate.
The Mainers had five hits on the night, three from recently called up rookie Nick Franklin, and one from expected savior and star catcher Mike Zunino. It would be more fun to talk about those two kids and their future than a dumb pitching change from Eric Wedge.
Franklin Gutierrez strained his hamstring Monday in Houston. It is not unusual for ball players to have injuries, but with Franklin injuries and illness seem to plague him. He has missed 192 of the last 324 games. For stat freaks, that is 59% games missed. That percentage does not reflect an everyday starter, but a fourth outfielder. When in the lineup-and healthy-he is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. The Mariners are lucky to have Endy Chavez to take his spot as his glove work is Mariner ship shape.
Health was not an issue in 2009 and 2010 when he played 153 and 152 games for Seattle with 629 plate appearances each year. In 2009 he had his best season with 18 homers, 70 RBIS and batted .283. His average dropped in 2010 to .245, hitting 12 home runs, driving in 64.
But in the last two seasons he has spent more time with doctors than a hypochondriac. In Franklin’s case his problems are real. Last year Franklin had a severe stomach disorder that baffled doctors for the longest time. He has also had a torn pectoral muscle, suffered a concussion, and strained an oblique muscle. In another time players would avoid Franklin as he would be the “Jonah” someone to avoid at all costs. Players would fear fallout, that getting to close to the “Jonah” might jeopardize one’s own health, that his bad luck would fall within too close a radius.
Franklin is likely headed to the DL and if so, then Carlos Peguero might be called up. He is batting .246 in Tacoma, has had call ups the last two seasons, exhibiting great power when not striking out. But when veterans Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez are not hitting what is the point of that ‘veteran presence?’ If a young player can hit .246 for the M’s they are better off than having two aging, ineffective veterans.
Michael Saunders will be back soon and his bat is needed because the other Michael, surname Morse, is slumping, no doubt due to his broken pinkie. Wait a minute! Morse started the season in left and broke his finger, and Saunders started the season in right, got hurt, and went on the DL. Gutierrez started the season in center field. The two Michaels flanked the ‘Jonah.” Maybe it is true and not a superstition. Be careful Carlos!
The headline is premature, but I wrote it for a reason. The Astros, whom many baseball insiders consider to be the worst team in baseball-though some say the Miami Marlins will lay claim to that dubious distinction- have moved to the AL West this season. If indeed the Astros are the worst then they will determine the outcome of the AL West Division title.
Here is my thinking, and it is the reason I predicted the Mariners would win 88 games. Los Angeles, Texas, Oakland, and yes, even Seattle, should beat up on the their new rival. The team that beats the Astros the most times in each teams 19 meetings with the Astros should be the division winner.
It looks like it won’t be Seattle. The Mariners beat Houston in the opener of the series, 3-0. It was expected. But then the Astros blasted off in the next two games leaving the Mariners lost in the foggy smoke from the lift off. Houston won 16-9 and 8-3. This from a team that could not score runs and were striking out at a record pace. In the last two games Houston belted 8 home runs to Seattle’s 5.
Everyone wanted the fences moved in. My concern was that visiting team would out homer Seattle. But I was thinking of the White Sox, the Other Sox, the Yankees, the Rangers and Angels. And oh, yes the Orioles, and Blue Jays. I was not thinking of the lowly Astros.
If Seattle can not win two of three from the Astros at home, then they are as good as dead for the division title. Not that they had much chance, but a winning record and a hoped for 88 wins would have been nice.
It could have been an aberration. Baseball is a crazy game and bad teams can beat up on mediocre and good teams.
Brandon Maurer was dreadful in his home debut and Blake Beavan has now had two straight bad outings. The bullpen was shaked, rattled, and rolled. Ackley, Smoak, and Seager can not find hits in their bats. And now after losing two to the Astros, the M’s face the Texas Rangers in a four game series. The rough start gets rougher.