Rangers at Mariners: Series Preview
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(1090 The Fan) — The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers will square off again for a three-game series at Safeco Field beginning Friday at 7:05 pm. The Rangers hosted the M’s earlier this month in Arlington and took three out of four games — and were also the ones to start Seattle’s eight-game losing streak.
When it comes to offense, the Rangers have the edge so far this season. They’ve tallied 199 hits, averaged a little more than four runs per game and maintained a healthy on-base percentage of .345. Seattle’s OBP sits at .277 heading into Friday’s game.
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Friday: R. Elias (1-2, 3.22 ERA) vs. R. Ross Jr. (1-1, 2.31 ERA)
The left-handed Elias has impressed early with improved pitchability and sound mechanics he’s repeating with consistency. When he’s loose, he’ll touch 93-94 mph with the fastbal, but throws more strikes and commands the pitch to both sides of the plate better at 90-92. He’s already experienced a few starts where didn’t have his best stuff but battled through it and gave the club a chance to win, which is all he’s being asked to do as a back-end starter. There may be more in his profile with continued progress with the breaking ball, a sweeping, two-plane slider with curveball depth and velocity, but innings is what he’s giving the Mariners and it’s what they sorely need.
Versus Texas, Elias will be challenged to command his fastball and slider versus the Rangers’ left-handed power. If he wins those battles the Mariners have a great chance to win his start.
Ross, also a lefty, stoned Seattle in Arlington with 7 2/3 shutout innings, and if the Mariners again allow him to fall behind to 16 of 30 batters faced without pushing up the pitch count — Ross threw just 90 pitches to those 30 batters — it will be another long day for the Mariners’ offense.
Ross has thrown harder in the past but he’s mostly 90-91 mph with the two-seam fastball and in the upper-80s with a useful cutter that has all but eliminated his changeup. He’ll mix in a low-80s slider that has been the big difference for him against left-handed batters; he’s taken about four miles per hour off the pitch from previous seasons, creating a greater differential in velocity from his cutter and fastball, which in turn is producing more swings and misses.
Ross is a tough matchup for the Mariners if he’s got his good command. It will be interesting to see what Lloyd McClendon does with the lineup after Kyle Seager has shown signs of heating up and the club purchased the contract of right-handed hitting outfielder Cole Gillespie to add to the mix against southpaw starters.
Saturday: F. Hernandez (3-1, 2.04 ERA) vs. C. Lewis (1-1, 4.22 ERA)
Hernandez’s worst outing of the season was Tuesday versus Houston when he yielded two earned runs over seven innings. Yes, that’s been his worst start of the year. In start No. 6 he will face the Rangers for a second time. Staying down in the zone is Hernandez’s forte and it’s always critical against teams that can hit the home run ball. What Texas has now that they didn’t have in the past is two bats — Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo — that work counts and draw walks, putting pressure on the opposing pitcher to throw strikes while not making mistakes in hitter’s counts.
Hernandez’s changeup is the key pitch to watch, as the Rangers will likely roll out their left-handed lineup that includes Mitch Moreland along with Choo, Fielder and Leonys Martin.
The Mariners beat Lewis on April 16 and catcher Mike Zunino took him deep, breaking a scoreless tie. Since then, Lewis pitched well versus the White Sox, but in both starts did not get to 90 pitches as the Rangers take it slow with coming off injury. His velocity is back into the 88 mph range, very close to his 89 average over the past three seasons, but the bite on the slider isn’t quite all the way back. He’s locating his pitches well, however, and his curveball has been a factor right from the get-go.
Justin Smoak is 5-for-9 with two doubles and a home run versus Lewis, so perhaps the first baseman is the player to watch against the Rangers veteran right-hander.
Sunday: B. Maurer (0-0, 2.08 ERA) vs. M. Harrison (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Maurer fought off control problems in Miami and held his own while on a pitch count. In the past, Maurer often has folded when he doesn’t have his best stuff, suggesting he’s maturing on the mound. He should be available for 80 or more pitches in this weekend’s start and if he can get into the sixth inning he’ll have done his job. Maurer features a 91-94 mph fastball but can touch 97, and possesses a plus slider that can get swings and misses. His third pitch is a low-to-mid 70s curveball that he’s commanding better early in the year and a weapon versus both lefties and righties alike. His changeup remains well below average which puts a lot of pressure on his command, but his fastball-slider combo is top drawer.
Maurer’s mechanics have unraveled in past starts in the big leagues, but if he keeps it together he’s a legit candidate to go deeper into games as his arm strength improves after falling behind in spring training with a back injury.
Harrison is returning from the disabled list to make his 2014 debut after dealing with a back injury of his own. He’s dominated the the current Mariners roster over the course of his career, holding Dustin Ackley to one hit in 19 at-bats and Seager to just three singles in 19 trips to the plate. Michael Saunders and Smoak have done some damage, however, each taking Harrison deep.
Harrison is a fastball-curveball-changeup pitcher, typically sitting 90-93 with a four-seamer and 89-91 with an effective two-seamer that rides in on right-handed batters. In his final rehab start for Double-A Frisco, Harrison sat 88-90, touched 92 and threw his changeup and breaking ball for strikes, so it appears that while he will be on a pitch count — he threw 86 pitches in that start and isn’t likely to be allowed to go beyond 100 in this one — he has his velocity where it needs to be.
Now that the 8-game skid is over, it’s time for the Mariners to go back to being a mediocre team — win a few, lose a few — and we can talk about what kind of team they are a couple months from now hovering near the .500 mark or being a few games under .500.
As we’ve discussed, there’s a difference between guys that *can’t* hit and guys that *aren’t* hitting. The latter of the two groups has nowhere to go but up, as Kyle Seager showed us on Wednesday. Robinson Cano is next in line. Abraham Almonte belongs to the first group. Corey Hart doesn’t belong in either group, as he is currently 11 for his last 31 (.355) and has reached base safely in his last 8 games — with four multi-hit games during that span.
Win the Felix start against the Rangers on Saturday instead of giving it away like they did in Texas. Steal one of the other games with Elias vs. Ross on FRI or Maurer vs. Harrison on SUN. At that point, you’ll hit the road with the off day Monday having at least closed out your homestand with three wins in four games — perhaps being buoyed by the Seager dramatics on Wednesday that ended the long losing streak.
The Rangers lead the American League in batting average (.271) and are second in on-base percentage (.345) but surprisingly have hit just 14 home runs. They do have 43 doubles, however, and are batting .298/.364/.427 versus left-handed pitching … One area where these two clubs are alike offensively is producing with runners in scoring position. Texas enters the series batting .249 with runners in scoring position, No. 12 in the AL, while the Mariners sit at .228, No. 14 in the circuit. The Rangers make up for some of those deficiencies by getting it done with two outs, though, sporting a .254/.343/387 triple-slash with RISP and two out. Seattle is last in average (.203) and on-base percentage (.296) in the same situations … Corey Hart enters the series with a 7-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .407/.467/.630 with a pair of home runs.
Former Mariners third baseman and Rangers star Adrian Beltre is slated to return from the disabled list for Game 1 … Texas acquired RHP Daniel Robertson from the San Diego Padres Friday. Robertson will take the roster spot of LHP Pedro Figueroa, who was placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation … Seattle shipped infielder Nick Franklin to Triple-A Tacoma Thursday and purchased the contract of veteran outfielder Cole Gillespie. The Mariners also optioned Erasmo Ramirez to Class-A High Desert, where he’s expected to stay on schedule so he can return after 1-2 starts in the minors. The club will call up a reliever before Friday’s game to fill out the roster for the Rangers series … Good news on the pitching front for the M’s, with right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma making a rehab start Sunday in Las Vegas and both Taijuan Walker (Monday) and James Paxton (Friday) being cleared to play catch.
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