There were plenty of positives to take out of today’s Mariners win over the San Diego Padres, starting with two of the hitters. We already talked about Jason Bay in the previous post, but Justin Smoak also hit a two-run homer today and did it batting from the left side. Smoak is a natural right-handed hitter so the left side will always be the one he has to work with.
Not to mention, it’s also the side he’ll use about three quarters of the time, since there are far more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties.
“It’s feeling better,” Smoak said. “It’s still a work in progress, but at the same time this is as close as I’ve felt for awhile to being where I want to be. So, it’s getting better.”
If Smoak hits like that from the left side all year, the Mariners will gain a real impact bat. But let’s wait and see first. It’s only his spring training debut.
On the pitching side, Blake Beavan has spent the spring so far working to generate a more downward plane on his pitches and it showed today. The Padres managed only two hits in his two innings and one was a blooper. None of his pitches were hit very hard, which has been the case with Beavan in the past when his fastball straightens out.
When you think of generating a downward plane, Doug Fister quickly comes to mind. He became a master at using only a couple of pitches to repeatedly get hitters out on soft contact, largely because they could not square up on all the downward-angled balls headed their way.
“I’m trying to create some more angle,” he said. “So, I got to work on some of that out there today and put it to the real test out there with some opposing hitters in more of a game situation.”
The biggest mechanical change sees Beavan getting his hands moving a little more and with more rhythm during his windup. Out of the stretch, he’ll start with his glove up higher and closer to his face. He’ll then break his hands away more quickly to try to generate the angle he’s looking for.
“I’d try to compare myself to Fister but I’m not that big as he is,” Beavan said. “But that’s kind of the way I’m trying to get my hands separated so I can get more of a downward plane on the ball. Get everything going downhill and use my height to my advantage rather than getting underneath stuff and getting more rotation. That’s how your ball flattens out.”
Other than Beavan, there was also a strong third inning worked by Kameron Loe, who struck out a pair and got an easy grounball for the final out after that. Don’t be fooled by Loe’s non-roster status. If he keeps pitching like that, he will make the team. The Mariners are very thin experience-wise from the right side and need help late in games.
Danny Hultzen turned in arguably the most dominant-looking mound performance, striking out the first two batters he faced in the fifth while getting another to roll into an easy groundout to the right side.
Taijuan Walker gave up a lone single in the fourth but otherwise held the Padres scoreless. He got his fastball up to 97 mph, then dropped his curveball down to 78 mph. That’s the type of differential pitching coaches love. Especially on a 20-year-old.
Like I said, it was a good day. Until the five-run ninth by San Diego. But it was mostly Class AA and AAA by that point, so nobody’s losing sleep over it.