Join me for my Talkin’ Baseball segment on Tuesday about 8:30 a.m. PT with host Mitch Levy on Sports Radio 950 KJR.
We’ve had plenty of discussions about this “attack mode” approach Eric Wedge has spent the past 16 months trying to get his hitters to employ. Even this morning, right here on the blog, we talked about it some more and some of the reprecussions the approach may have had on a team walk rate that’s one of the lowest in baseball.
But what you saw tonight in a 6-1 win over Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers is exactly what Wedge wants out of his hitters. The Mariners punished Darvish when he came in the zone tonight. And when he didn’t, they took six walks against him — seven total in the game. They made him throw 96 pitches in four innings.
Even in that 1-2-3 second inning — the only clean one Darvish had — Mike Carp still made him throw 10 pitches to notch a strikeout.
That’s what this approach is supposed to be all about. That’s how it’s supposed to work: even against a good pitcher on a great team.
It was never about being anti-walk. Clearly, an approach that generates six walks in three-plus innings against Darvish is not anti-walk.
This was always about being ready to hit good pitches, lay off bad ones and let the hits and walks pile up accordingly. Tonight, they did and Wedge looked and sounded pretty excited and almost relieved about it afterwards. It’s been a long, patient road he’s had to follow to get to this point. And this is only the beginning. We’ve yet to see proof the M’s can do this consistently. But this was a very real start against a very good ballclub.
“You’ve really got to tip your hat to our guys,” Wedge said. “Offensively, our guys went out there and made him (Darvish) come into the zone. And when he didn’t, we took the passes where we could.”
Dustin Ackley agreed with the assessment. Ackley told me the Mariners knew from their last time facing Darvish that he could be wild at times. The game plan going in was to make him work and not miss any hittable stuff.
You’ll remember how close the Mariners were to burying Darvish in the first inning in Texas last month. But how they swung into some quick outs right at the end to let him survive that frame and go on to pitch 5 2/3 for the win.
Not this time.
“He didn’t locate as well as he’d probably like,” Ackley said. “And our guys didn’t miss the pitches that we had opportunities to hit. And I think that’s the key for us. Just not missing the pitches when we get them.”
So, we’ll see what happens next. Whether the Mariners make other pitchers pay, or start missing hittable stuff and fouling it straight back.
They weren’t perfect tonight. They had that bases loaded, none out situation after Ackley’s RBI single in the fourth and couldn’t add to a 5-0 lead.
But with Felix Hernandez on the mound, a 5-0 lead can be like 20-0 when he has his sinker working. And tonight, he had it. He’d spent the weekend honing it in bullpen sessions in Colorado and the results were markedly different from what went on in Cleveland last week.
Josh Hamilton went 0-for-4 with a popout and two strikeouts against Hernandez to see his batting average fall to .377. Yeah, that’s how great Hamilton has been and how well Hernandez pitched.
“With how hot he is right now, Hamilton’s pretty good,” Hernandez said. “I was real lucky right there. Hamilton’s pretty good.”
Hernandez also had some showdowns with friend and former Mariners teammate Adrian Beltre, with some usual chatter between the two after each one. Beltre began with a single through the left side off Hernandez, then had a deep fly ball die near the center field warning track a few innings later.
“There was a lot of stuff going on right there,” Hernandez said. “He was talking and telling me to throw a straight fastball. And I was like ‘I just threw one right down the middle and you just missed it.'”
The good-natured yapping continued for several at-bats once Hernandez was out of the game.
“That wad unbelievable,” he said. “He’s crazy, I’m crazy. We were talking about a lot of stuff.”