Going into the regular season, there wasn’t a whole lot of mystery to the pros and cons of this Mariners team. The club was going to have more power and we saw it with the home runs and doubles this initial series, which ended split after the Mariners lost 8-2 to the Oakland Athletics this afternoon.
We knew the Mariners might be challenged to get on base at times, which they have been for long stretches of innings. But they have gotten on at other times, so that issue remains up for debate.
But the big “con” to the power-hitting “pros” on the squad wasn’t so much the lineup or the ability to score runs. It was the ability to prevent them. For me, the whole concern about corner outfield defense has been vastly overstated and will be more than made up for by the offensive gains.
When it comes to this team’s starting rotation, though, I’ve never had a problem with those who worry about it. Why would I? The rotation after Felix Hernandez has never looked great on paper and it gets very shaky once you get past Hisashi Iwakuma in the No. 2 spot.
And so far, I’ve seen little to calm those jitters.
We’re only one series into a six-month season, sure. But that series did nothing to answer questions about the rotation’s back end (or its middle) and certainly will leave room for concern until those throwing the baseballs show something different.
Simply put: the final two losses here all came down to starting pitching — or lack of it.
Brandon Maurer gets a bit of a pass today, since it was his big-league debut and all. Most rotations can stand to let one back-end guy find his way for weeks on end through all the nerves, learning curves and mistakes that go with it.
We saw a bunch of that from Maurer today.
The problem becomes when you have three pitchers doing it.
Joe Saunders did not look very good at all last night, but we’ve chalked it up to some slippery baseballs that were tough for pitchers to grip. So much so that Mariners coaches actually spoke to officials in charge of preparing the baseballs prior to today’s game. No further complaints from anyone postgame today.
But we’ll just have to see whether Saunders does better his next time out after a long and trying spring for him at times.
This is where, to me, Blake Beavan could be the most important pitcher on this staff after Iwakuma’s spot. Of the three remaining, he’s the one who stands to repa the biggest gains and possibly has the most room to grow this season from the pitcher he’s been before. It all depends on how quickly he adjusts to his new delivery. And whether he can repeat that delivery consistently and make smart choices on the mound where pitch selection is concerned.
We’ll get our first taste tomorrow night in Chicago. But Saunders, you pretty much know what you’re going to get when things go well. With Maurer, he’ll probably get better than we saw today, but I’m not really expecting all that much out of him this year.
If Beavan can surprise and do more, it could tip the scales.
So far, we’ve seen two good pitching performances from the front end of the rotation result in two wins. And we’ve seen two bad starts — no other way to call six runs over six innings with eight hits (five for extra bases) allowed by Maurer today — lead to two losses.
So, what the Mariners can do with that remaining start in five will go a long way towards determining whether this season is closer to .600 ball or .400 ball.
As for Maurer today, he made a huge mistake to Josh Reddick on a 1-2 fastball in the first inning that was supposed to be up and away from the hitter but instead went down the middle of the plate. The Mariners never caught up after that two-run homer.
Maurer hit a batter to start the second inning, but then retired nine in a row.
“I think there was a time there when I settled down, but then I started getting away from my fastball and started getting behind in counts and got myself in trouble,’’ Maurer said.
That would be in the sixth inning, when, after the Mariners had made it a 3-2 game on a Michael Morse home run, Maurer allowed back-to-back doubles to Jed Lowrie and Reddick, then a two-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes that put the game away.
“I think maybe location with the off-speed is what got me in trouble,’’ Maurer said.
Maurer excelled all spring at bearing down with runners on base, but today, he didn’t do it as often. His changeup to Lowrie and slider to Reddick were too centered, as was the slider that Cespedes belted out of the park.
Earlier on, after a Chris Young double, Maurer uncorked a wild pitch that sent the runner to third with no out and allowed him to score on an ensuing sacrifice fly.
So, some things he needs to work on. It’ll all get excused today because of first-game jitters and such and that’s fine. As long as he can take the good things out of today, build on those and eliminate some of the mistakes.
“I hope he sees that he learned from a couple of mistakes in good spots there and corrects them going forward,’’ veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach said. “It was a pretty good day for him. I hope that he’s proud that he had a chance to get out there and pitch for the first time.’’
Maurer said he was actually more nervous after the first inning that when he started the game. He had family in the stands and had to be overwhelmed just a bit at times. Remember, he was only in AA last year.
So, this first round through the rotation so far has gone pretty much as expected. We’ll see whether Beavan surprises anyone tomorrow night. What he does could very well set the tone for the rest of this opening trip and how it finishes off.
“It’s a new ballclub, we’ve got a lot of guys here that are just now getting settled in,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It takes a little time to get your feet underneath you and find that groove as a club. But we will.’’
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