The Seattle Mariners are coming off a 6-1 road trip that included a makeup game last Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. That victory proved to be the third and final game of a series sweep for the M’s. The Mariners continue to score runs on the road — 4.7 per game — and pick up wins away from home (20-14) but have yet to get the offense going at Safeco Field.
If they are to stay in the Wild Card race or possibly even make a run at the Oakland Athletics in the American League West — don’t laugh, the M’s sit just 4.5 games back entering play Tuesday — they’ll have to figure out how to produce more in their home ballpark.
Tuesday: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP vs. Vidal Nuno, LHP
Iwakuma bounced back from a couple of sub par outings last week in Atlanta, firing seven shutout frames at the Braves in 2-0 shutout win.
The right-hander has used his sinker, slider and splitter to perfect most of his abbreviated season and is among the best No. 2 starters in baseball. He pounds the strike zone, induces ground balls and misses bats, and he’s doing that with consistency in his second full year as a starter for the M’s.
Iwakuma has had some problems against a few of the current Yankees, including Derek Jeter (4-for-6, HR), Kelly Johnson (2-for-4, 2B) and Alfonos Soriano (2-for-3, HR). Ichiro Suzuki (1-for-8) has been unable to solve Iwakuma.
Nuno will make start No. 13 in his young career and first against Seattle. He’s been serviceable at times this season, but has had problems keeping the ball in the ballpark.
The southpaw sits 87-90 mph with his fastbal, using both a four-seamer and two-seamer. He throws a lot of low-80s sliders and also offers a mid-70s curveball and 80-82 mph changeup that may be his best pitch.
Nuno’s control has been better of late but he has been missing in the strikezone. He’s yielded 13 hits — four homers — in his last two starts, covering 47 batters faced and 11 1/3 innings.
He can be tough on left-handers when he has his sweeping slider working. His short-arms the ball but repeats his delivery well and stays closed creating some deception. When Nuno stays down — which is difficult for him since he’s 5-foot-11 and does not pull through the ball at release — he’s very tough and can get some ground ball outs.
Wednesday: Chris Young, RHP vs. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
Young’s luck has yet to run out, despite 12 walks in his past four starts, including five at Tampa Friday night. He’s not getting ground ball outs, but he has mixed in strikeout totals of five and six in two of his last three outings. Batters have yet to square up Young for more than an inning or so as the veteran has surrendered three runs or less in eight of his 11 starts.
He’s had his good slider more in his past four starts than earlier in the year, but his fastball command has been spotty. Young will need to return to form against the Yankees, who boast a few power bats that cash in on mistakes.
Soriano is just 4-for-20 off Young lifetime, but has a two home runs, a double and a triple, while Suzuki is 8-for-20 with two homers and six walks without a strikeout. Young has handled Mark Teixeira (1-for-11, HR), Brian McCann (2-for-15, HR) and Derek Jeter (1-for-10), though all those home runs could be a problem if he’s not on his game.
Tanaka has been all the Yankees could have expected and more, taking over the ace role in the club’s rotation. He’s pitching deep into games regularly, avoiding walks and home runs and piling up the strikeouts.
The right-hander pitches comfortably at 91-92 mph with his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, but sits around 90 with a cutter-style version and 85-87 with a devastating splitter, perhaps rivaled only by that of Iwakuma.
Tanaka also throws a sinker, slider and an occasional curveball. In other words, he’s a kitchen sink pitcher with command and elite-level stuff. He can reach back for more velocity when necessary, touching the mid-90s on occasion.
Tanaka has given up eight long balls — five to right-handed batters — but it’s an acceptable number considering he’s logged 84 2/3 innings and his home park is hitter friendly.
He is coming off his shortest outing, six innings, at home versus the A’s, but Oakland made him work — 104 pitches to 24 batters — and that generally isn’t the strength of the Mariners. If Tanaka doesn’t many mistakes, it’s going to be a long day for Seattle’s hitters.
Thursday: Roenis Elias, LHP vs. Chase Whitley, RHP
Elias has been solid his last two starts after a rocky outing versus the Angels at Safeco Field May 27. He shut out the Tigers on three hits and a walk and while he yielded four earned runs against the Rays Saturday, that came on just five hits and two walks over 7 2/3 innings.
Elias’ changeup has developed well during the season, something Detroit learned June 1 at Safeco. The Yankees will have a strong right-handed lineup set for Elias, including Jeter, the switch-hitting Teixeira, Yangervis Solarte and Brian Roberts, Soriano and perhaps catcher Francisco Cervelli.
If he can survive the lefties — Brian McCann, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury — Elias has a chance to repeat his performance from May 1 when he punched out a career-high 10 batters over seven strong innings in New York.
Whitley, a 15th-round pick from 2010 out of Troy University, will be making start No. 6 in his career, all this season. He’s a strike thrower with average fastball velocity, some arm side tail and some sink when he finishes well.
His 83-85 mph changeup is about average and he can throw it for strikes and with late sink. He;s not afraid to throw it early in counts, often trying to get ahead with it.
His breaking ball is a hard slider in the 85-87 mph range. The break is short but he is adept at burying down and in to left-handed batters and diving away from right-handers.
Whitley is a command and feel starter but he has a good idea how to pitch and for the most part stays out of the middle of the plate. He does pitch up by design, however, and has had some issues versus lefties who are batting .298/.327/.426 off him.
Robinson Cano continues to hit for average and get on base in his first season with the Mariners. The second baseman is batting .332 for the year, but is hitting .356/.407/.452 since May 1 … during the same span, James Jones is batting .284/.325/.379, offering the Mariners speed and some semblance of consistency at the top of the order. Jones has three of the club’s 18 triples this season, 16 of which have come on the road. Seattle tripled all of 17 times a year ago — for the entire season … Also in that same span, Justin Smoak is 23-for-128 (.180) with a .264 on-base percentage and .320 slugging. Since May 26, Smoak has just four hits in 37 at-bats. In Smoak’s absence — he’s dealing with a quad injury — Willie Bloomquist is 6-for-15 with a double, two walks and two RBI … In case you are wondering if the Mariners have any first base help down on the farm, the answer, at least right now, is a resounding ‘no’ … Mike Zunino also is struggling of late. The second-year catcher is seven for his last 46 (.152) with just two extra-base hits and 17 strikeouts since May 25 … Despite an 0-for-3 Monday, shortstop Brad Miller is showing signs he’s coming out of a long slump. In his past 10 games, Miller is 8-for-31 (.258) with a home run and a triple. That stretch featured matchups versus Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, left-handers Drew Smyly, Mike Minor, Erick Bedard and David Price, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer. Miller also has cleaned things up defensively, committing just one error since May 16 … The M’s rank No. 7 in the American League in FIP and bullpen FIP. The relief corps ranks No. 2 in the league in strikeouts per nine innings and have served up the fourth-fewest home runs.
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