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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

June 25, 2007 at 10:00 PM

Weaver “amped” as M’s win

Time to start getting excited about this team? Let’s say I’m a little more optimistic about Jeff Weaver and the Mariners after tonight’s 9-4 win over the Boston Red Sox than I was a week ago when he manhandled the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bosox are no slouches, but Weaver held them to a lone earned run over 5 2/3 innings.
Better still, he pitched impressively out of two jams with some pretty good hitters at the plate. He also nearly made it through six innings despite having his pitch count run up in typical fashion by the patient Boston hitters. Weaver showed some genuine emotion on the mound, cursing when the breaks didn’t go his way, then rising and shouting on the dugout steps as a Jose Lopez single snapped a 2-2 tie in a five-run Seattle fifth.
Weaver had been shouting up a storm on the mound a little earlier in the game, when Lopez allowed a two-run single to roll under his glove. The play was initially ruled an error but later changed to a hit. Weaver also seemed to let fly with some verbiage on a ball that Yuniesky Betancourt failed to come up with.
The pitcher said his mound tirades were directed mostly at himself for letting his pitch count climb to 85 after just four innings.
“My competitive nature sometimes gets the best of me,” Weaver said. “It’s all for the good. It gets me amped.”
Weaver was at 85 pitches through four innings when he was told by manager Mike Hargrove that he’d be allowed to go as deep as his stuff would allow him. In other words, 110 or even 115 pitches as loing as he got hitters out. That seemed to settle Weaver down. He made it within one out of ending the sixth, his pitch count at 104, but with a 6-2 lead, there was little point in keeping him out there any longer.
“You’ve got to have your best stuff against them or it ends up being a chore,” Weaver said. “Your pitch count adds up pretty quickly against those guys.”
Why does Weaver matter in a 9-4 game? Because this team needs a mound boost. It cannot contend with the pitching it has received for most of the season’s first three months. If this is indeed a different Weaver we’re seeing, that boost will be akin to adding another starting pitcher. Based on what I’ve seen now against the worst of the NL and now some of the best of the AL, this Weaver is looking like a different guy from the one who pitched in April and May.
The hitters he faced were off-balance all game long. Whether it was his changing arm angles, or his pitch selection, or location, the Red Sox could not get their feet planted, set up, and connect the way teams were off Weaver earlier in the year. I mean, this guy got hammered by rockets each and every start before going on the disabled list. Tonight, I could count only two hard hit balls off him: a single by Coco Crisp in the fourth and a single off the wall in left by Mike Lowell in the fifth.
“The last time he faced Boston, he relied a lot on his sinker and slider,” Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima said of that season debut in which Weaver yielded seven runs in just two innings. “This time, he used the slider and sinker, but we also threw in a lot of soft breaking pitches.”
Weaver was especially effective at throwing his breaking ball when behind in the count.
“They’re a deadly fastball-hitting team,” he said. “And when you fall behind, you definitely don’t want to lay one out there that they can hit out of the yard.”
Didn’t happen.
On the hitting side, I liked the way the Mariners played the small ball stuff early on, working the count for some key walks, hitting with two strikes in the count, running out infield singles and taking added bases on hits. Then, with a 6-2 lead, they got back-to-back homers for the first time all year from Johjima and Adrian Beltre.
Versatility is the key to any offense. It isn’t enough to slug and slug and slug. Some games just won’t be the type that let you do that. This was a small ball type of game early and the Mariners executed better than the Red Sox did. Now, it’s only one game. But it was big, because the Cleveland Indians beat Oakland to maintain their three-game lead over Seattle in the wild card standings.
Remember, if the M’s want to be buyers at the trade deadline, they can’t afford to fall too far out of this thing come mid-July. That’s only a couple of weeks away and this stretch against winning teams will prove telling. Seattle is now seven games over .500 and faces a relatively unknown lefthander, Kason Gabbard, tomorrow night. We’ll get another look at the “new and improved” Felix Hernandez in what looks like a mound mismatch. Win this series and the M’s erase some of the damage done by their relatively poor showing down the interleague stretch against weak NL opponents.
By the way, it’s getting a little late in the game for the A’s to make one of their patented runs. Oakland seemed to be lining up to do just that, but is now slumping badly and more or less out of the AL West hunt, despite an Angels loss to Kansas City tonight. The A’s are also slipping dangerously far behind in the wild card standings. That’s five games back of the Indians. Oakland does have the mound horses that Seattle lacks in the rotation. But there is a limit to how deep a hole they can dig themselves.
Toronto won again and that is looming as an interesting series next weekend as far as wild-card hopefuls go. But let’s worry about this series first. That was one big test passed by the M’s tonight if they hope to win this series. I’d even rate it — to quote my words from this morning — as a pleasant surprise. Many more will be needed, but the fun keeps going another day.

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