One of the first things Don Wakamatsu did tonight was defend reliever Brandon League after he’d yielded two walks and a three-run homer by Alberto Callaspo.
“I think a lot of it is, you look at his innings,” Wakamatsu said. “And the need to have other guys step up in the bullpen to kind of protect him a bit. He’s thrown 43 or so innings and we’re right at the break. That’s a lot of innings.”
League had thrown 43 1/3 heading into tonight and is still at that bullpen-high total after failing to retire anyone. Part of the problem is, as I mentioned earlier, you’ve got no one else to bring in when the M’s have a lead in the eighth.
Mark Lowe and Shawn Kelley are hurt. Sean White can’t seem to get anyone out. David Aardsma is the closer and he’s struggling as well. Garrett Olson? He gave up a skyscraping home run moments after League left. That’s why the team didn’t bring him into the game with two on.
The M’s needed League to find his fastball command and get a double-play with his two-seamer. But he couldn’t do it. His velocity is still there, but the command hasn’t been for the last two games.
“It seemed a little worse,” League said of this outing compared to Monday’s blown save. “They didn’t even put the ball in-play this time.”
No, they didn’t. I asked League whether he’d tried to use his split-fingered fastball more. He told me he threw two of them, but the hitters wouldn’t bite.
“Once I fell behind in the count, they were sitting on my fastball,” he said. “They weren’t going to swing at balls in the dirt.”
We’ve discussed before how League only likes to use the splitter to get strikeouts when he needs them most. But they also aren’t going to work well if he’s trying for a double-play ball with his two-seam sinker and can’t throw strikes.
In other words, League never really had a chance to use the splitter, except maybe on the first pitch to the first hitter he faced. Once a guy was on base, it became double-play time and he needed to get the sinker over.
League said he once threw more than 50 innings of minor league ball leading into the halfway point of a season and his arm was fine. He doesn’t feel the innings are an issue and hopes some mechanical adjustments in side sessions beginning tomorrow will help him get the two-seamer over more.
Fister said he couldn’t throw strikes either, as we all saw. It was a battle all night and he got somewhat lucky on some hard hit balls with great fielding behind him and the Billy Butler near-miss on the home run.
Wakamatsu said a key moment in the game was the third inning, bases-loaded, double-play grounder by Jose Lopez. The Mariners stranded nine tonight and they all proved big in the end.
It turns out that, just before the bases were loaded, third base coach Lee Tinsley did indeed start to wave Ichiro around third on the single blooped to shallow right-center by Russell Branyan. But Ichiro, who rounded third hard, turned to look at the play behind him just as Tinsley began to wave him in.
Not seeing the coach, he hit the brakes and scampered back to third.
A game of inches.
The Mariners didn’t have the inches tonight. Nor the feet once it became a home run derby. Two by Casey Kotchman were not enough to match the three by the Royals, who swept Seattle at home for the first time since 1995.
Lousy night. Bad series. Awful season. Good night.