Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

(1090 The Fan) — The Seattle Mariners head into 4-game series with the Angels a sub-.500 team after splitting a 4-game set with the Houston Astros. The club is 49 games into the season and despite their ups and downs, the M’s remain in the thick of things in the American League.

Seattle enters the series 4-1 versus the Los Angeles Angels, having outscored the Halos 31-13, including a series sweep to open the season.

Pitching Preview
Tuesday: Roenis Elias, LHP vs. Jered Weaver, RHP
Elias has been inconsistent yet he’s battled without his best command and has given the M’s a chance to win every one of his 10 starts.

He’s sitting firmly at 90-92 mph with his fastball, mixing both two-seam and four-seam varieties more his last few outings. The 25-year-old still is throwing a lot of curveballs — about 23 percent for the year — but he’s picked up his changeup and the pitch is developing into an average offering.

Getting ahead is critical for every pitcher but for Elias it’s imperative. Opponents are batting just .220/.273/.366 off him when he starts off with a strike. When he goes 1-0 instead, those numbers jump to .254/.412/.343.

Elias most-needed area of improvement may be with runners in scoring position, where opponents are slugging .490, and with runners in scoring position and two out where Elias is allowing a .318/.348/.591 triple-slash.

Elias faced the Angels April 9 and took the loss, but he yielded just four hits and two earned runs in five innings. He allowed a two-run homer to Albert Pujols for the only runs of the game. Elias kept Mike Trout hitless.

Weaver was tagged for three earned runs on six hits versus Seattle Opening Night, but the right-hander is on a run of late that resembles the best of his career. He’s surrendered two runs or fewer in seven straight starts and has gotten into the seventh inning in four straight.

Weaver is sitting 85-87 mph with his fastball for an average of 86.2, another tick down from 2010 when he averaged over 90 mph. He’s throwing more two-seamers and changeups this year and is only offering the four-seam fastball about 18 percent of the time.

Robinson Cano has owned Weaver over the course of his career, collecting 13 hits in 33 at-bats (.394) and Dustin Ackley is 7-for-21 with a home run. Justin Smoak (.276/.344/.552, 2 HR) and Michael Saunders (6-for-20, 2B) also have had success against Weaver. In 15 career starts at Safeco Field, Weaver is 6-7 with a 4.38 ERA in 90 1/3 innings. He’s served up 13 long balls and 102 hits.

Wednesday: Felix Hernandez, RHP vs. C.J. Wilson, LHP
Hernandez has flipped the switch since a four-start lull late in April and into May. In his last two outings he’s allowed 12 hits and three earned runs in 16 innings, striking out 14 and issuing just two bases on balls. Furthermore, the ground ball is back; he’s induced 29 ground ball outs against 14 fly ball outs in those two starts, a sign that his sinker is working and he’s commanding his entire arsenal.

The King’s velocity was up last time out and his season average fastball is just under 92 mph — closer to his 92.4 mark in 2012 than last year’s 91.3. Velocity hasn’t mattered much for Hernandez, but it’s a sign his arm is sound, as is the pinpoint command.

The Angels have been a thorn in the side of the M’s ace often over the past few years, but he tamed the beast to open the season, punching out 11 in six innings and picking up the win.

Despite the lull, Hernandez ranks No. 3 in all of baseball with a 2.28 FIP and No. 7 in walks per nine innings at 1.67, a career-best mark.

Howie Kendrick (.290/.319/.391) fares decent versus Hernandez, but it’s Trout that’s been the torment. The third-year phenom is 16-for-41 with six extra-base hits — two homers — off Hernandez, though The King has sat him down on strikes none times.

Wilson (6-3, 3.00 ERA, 10 GS) has been solid for the Angels this season with his worst effort coming April 1 versus the Mariners when he allowed six earned runs on eight hits. Since then he’s given up more than three earned runs just once and went the distance versus the Rays in a five-hit shutout.

Wilson offers a fastball at 89-92 mph, a hard cutter that occasionally flashed as an above-average pitch and two breaking balls; one, a low-80s slider with two-plane break that he uses effectively versus lefties and righties alike, and a mid-70s curveball that he’s throwing more this season than ever before.

He’s also throwing his changeup more to right-handed batters, which helps explain why right-handed hitters have not managed any more success against him in 2014 than have lefties. Both are batting .217 off Wilson with .298 and .299 on-base marks. The walks still is a bit of an issue for Wilson, however, putting the honus on the top few batters in the M’s lineup to make sure he throws strikes and take the walk if it’s there.

Smoak (8-for-32, 3 HR) and Cano (11-for-31, 2-2B) handle Wilson well, but Saunders (3-for-23, 4BB, 6 SO) and pretty much everyone else in the regular lineup struggle versus the Angels southpaw. This may be a start for John Buck, however, thanks to his 3-for-5, 2B, HR line off Wilson.

Brad Miller went 2-for-5 off Wilson earlier this season, including a home run, and Ackley doubled and singled.

Thursday: Brandon Maurer, RHP vs. Wade LeBlanc, LHP
Maurer has struggled in each of his starts in 2014, and while he’s the listed starter today he may not be come Thursday. Erasmo Ramirez has been decent in Triple-A Tacoma and appears to be the better bet to get through five or six innings.

Maurer cranked up his fastball last time out, hitting 98 on the gun once and 95 or better 10 times, but the results didn’t follow. His command has been spotty and he hasn’t had his good slider. The slider he’s throwing is very hard, ranging from 88-91 mph, up about three miles per hour over his usual. The added heat is removing some break from the pitch and a lot of its effectiveness.

While Maurer is comfortable using his curveball and changeup more than a year ago, which is a positive, he’s falling behind 1-0 in 49 percent of his batters faced. After 1-0 counts, opponents are batting a whopping .460 off Maurer, including four doubles and three home runs.

He’s leaving pitches up in the zone and becoming predictable when behind in the count, and he’s been unable to throw his offspeed stuff for strikes, creating a mess of a situation for himself, the M’s bullpen and the club’s chances to win.

The Angels are not a good matchup for Maurer, either, with a mix of lefties and righties, power and patience and couple of batters that can handle the bat in Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick. Pujols and Trout are a combined 6-for-12 off Maurer.

Ramirez has fared a bit better, with his Angels nemesis, Josh Hamilton, on the shelf with an injury.

LeBlanc is making his 2014 big-league debut, but he’s been lit up in three appearances at Safeco, allowing 12 hits and 12 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander hasn’t faced many of the current Mariners, however, with the current roster 7-for-21 off him, with the only regular, Kyle Seager, garnering but one at-bat versus the 29-year-old.

LeBlanc is a fastball-cutter-curveball-changeup pitcher, sitting 84-88 with his four-seamers, but mixing in a lot of two-seamers with sink and run and a cutter that has become his most important pitch.

He throws a lot of changeups to right-handed batters and is generally considered a strike thrower, though he tends to nibble with his below-average stuff in order to avoid the middle of the zone. The cutter should help him neutralize, somewhat, left-handed batters that have owned him over the course of his career. A year ago, lefties batted .346 with four home runs off LeBlanc, so if Lloyd McClendon does his homework, he’ll stack the lineup with James Jones, Saunders, Cano, Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Miller or Franklin and not go with the handedness platoon split plan in this one.

(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.)


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