(1090 The Fan) — The Mariners continue their road trip in Oakland on Monday after a shaky-yet-successful series in Houston against the Astros.
Seattle has won five of its past six, despite having a bullpen that can be unreliable. The club put up 21 runs in three games against Houston, but surrendered 20.
Looking ahead to the first-place Athletics, Seattle will have to get past one of the best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball. Oakland has a team ERA of 3.00 and is holding opponents to a .224 batting average. The A’s have also have two shutouts thus far in 2014.
Monday: C. Young (1-0, 3.04 ERA) vs. S. Kazmir (4-0, 2.11 ERA)
Young’s job is to keep the Mariners in games and he’s done that in three of his four starts thus far. Against Oakland, he’ll have to throw more strikes, which likely puts a lot of pressure on the veteran to spot his fastball effectively and catch the corners with his breaking ball. The A’s will let you walk them and have power, in the form of Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson, that can punish fastballs in the zone.
Young’s velocity has been solidly 85-86, but it’s his command that means the most in this start. With an overworked bullpen, it’s imperative that he give the M’s at least six innings, especially considering the two teams play a doubleheader Wednesday.
There’s not a lot of history with Young and the Athletics, but reserve Nick Punto is 4-for-8 in his career against the 34-year-old right-hander.
Kazmir shutout the Mariners April 13, going six strong and allowing just two hits while piling up nine strikeouts against zero bases on balls. Kazmir is sitting 92-94 mph with his four-seam fastball but is throwing more two-seamers in the 89-92 mph range. He’s using the cutter more in 2014 and the slider a little bit less. His changeup has improved and he’s showing it earlier in counts, keeping hitters off his fastball variety.
If Kazmir throws strikes, he’s tough to get to, and though the M’s have fared better against southpaws this season than they have righties.
Tuesday: Elias (2-2, 3.09 ERA) vs. J. Chavez (2-0, 1.89 ERA)
Elias is coming off the best start of his career when he fanned 10 Yankees last week in The Bronx. The rookie’s curveball was filthy in that one and if he has that pitch again Tuesday the A’s are in for a tough day.
Ultimately, Elias will need to throw a more-effective changeup but right now he’s still new to the league and batters are having problems preparing for the curveball and reacting to his 90-93 mph fastball and upper-80s cutter. He’s two-seaming right-handers in lieu of the changeup at times, but when he doesn’t get it in enough it’s a very hittable offering.
Staying away from the walk has been a battle for Elias — 16 on the year in just 35 frames — especially considering his stuff induces more fly balls than ground balls and the home run ball is always an issue for such pitchers, magnifying the importance of keeping the ball down in the zone.
Elias faced Oakland last month and held them to a run in five innings of work.
Chavez toed the rubber that same day for Oakland, lasting six innings and allowing five hits and two runs — one earned. He’s been good all year, allowing more than one earned run just once in six outings and he;s compiled a 41-8 K/BB ratio for the year.
The right-hander attacks batters with a 90-92 mph fastball, but can reach back for 95-96 if neeeded. He mixes two-seamers, cutters and four-seamers, throwing nearly 40 percent cutters so far in 2014. His curveball is average and his changeup is underrated, but in Oakland Athgletuics fashion Chavez will throw fastballs 70-75 percent of the time and only unveil the changeup and curveball when necessary.
Corey Hart is 2-for-7 off Chavez lifetime and backup catcher John Buck is 1-for-3 with a home run. Starter Mike Zunino went 1-for-2 with a double in the April 3 matchup.
Wednesday, Game 1: TBD vs. D. Straily (1-2, 5.01 ERA)
Straily is a four-pitch arm with above-average command and three big-league secondary pitches, including a changeup that can be effective versus lefties and righties alike. His curveball shows two-plane break and his slider is a pitch he uses sparingly but effectively to stay away from the middle of the plate versus power bats.
He’ll throw strikes and if he stays out of the middle of the plate and down can go through a lineup three times, getting his team through seven innings and set up well for victory. He doesn’t have an out pitch, however, so the Mariners should be able to put the ball in play against him.
Wednesday, Game 2: F. Hernandez (3-1, 2.53 ERA) vs. TBD
Hernandez is coming off three straight sub par outings — at least by King Felix’s standards, though reportedly he was flu-ridden in Houston — strongly suggesting he’s well overdue for a rebound performance. During his past three starts, Hernandez’s fastball has been up and his changeup has been nearly nonexistent, which is forcing him to throw more breaking balls and puts more pressure on commanding his two-seamer, specifically versus left-handed batters.
Hernandez has dominated the Athletics in his career, including two starts in 2014 where The King yielded just three earned runs over 15 1/3 innings, striking out 19 batters and walking only two. Without the changeup or impeccable command, however, Hernandez is susceptible to a left-handed heavy Oakland lineup.
It’s hard to imagine the Mariners have won seven of nine, while managing to lose both Felix starts during that span. It just adds to what has been an improbable season so far, in a lot of ways. The fact this team already has a chance to be a .500 club or even possibly eclipse the .500 mark — after not hitting for three straight weeks in April — is stunning. If they’re able to reach the .500 mark this week, it will be the furthest into a season the team has been at .500 since 2009.
Thankfully, the Abraham Almonte force-feeding experiment is over. He can figure out how to become a hitter in the minors, instead of baptism by fire in the bigs, which was incredibly frustrating to watch, especially because it lasted more than a month. Michael Saunders has done an admirable job filling in, and did more in five games with the bat and glove than Almonte did in 25. Saunders may not be the long term answer at leadoff, but he’s an option, which is good enough for now.
Hisashi Iwakuma was decent during his first outing, considering he never had a spring training and had come off a lengthy rehab of intermittent work in simulated games. Injury or not, I still think it’s asking a lot for him to put up a similar performance to last year, but if he’s somewhere in the neighborhood, he’s still a viable No. 2 starter behind Felix. Hopefully, Lloyd McClendon will see the light on Danny Farquhar and allow him to earn the right-handed set up job, which he deserves. ‘The Fernando Rodney Experience’ will keep us all on the edge of our seats, per usual.
After starting the year batting .222 in 20 games, the Mariners are batting .262 over its last nine games. During that span, the club has averaged 5.7 runs per game. For the year, their 4.2 runs-per-game average is up from 3.79 a year ago … Contrary to what has occurred the past few years, Seattle is 8-3 versus left-handed starters and have fared better … Michael Saunders is 9-for-23 over the past five games, most of that damage done out of the leadoff spot, formerly manned by Abraham Almonte … Almonte was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. James Jones was recalled. Here’s what you can expect from him.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)