1090 The Fan — The Seattle Mariners have split their last two series and enter the final stanza of the current 11-game home stand one game under .500 for the season.

The American League Central leading Detroit Tigers are in town, but are losers of seven of their last 10 games, largely due to a bump in the road for the starting rotation.

Pitching Preview
Friday: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP vs. Justin Verlander, RHP
Iwakuma has been terrific since coming off the disabled list, commanding his entire arsenal with consistency, particularly his sinker and four-seam fastball early in counts.

The right-hander has been stingy versus leadoff hitters and No. 3 hitters this season. The leadoff hitters are 3-for-16 with just one run scored while No. 3 hitters have but one hit, a single, in 15 plate appearances. The top five batters in the order are batting just .200 off Iwakuma.

The Tigers’ hitters haven’t solved Iwakuma with the exception if Ian Kinsler, who was 8-for-20 with three homers and a double off the M’s co-ace while with the Texas Rangers.

Torii Hunter (2-for-10, 2 SO), Miguel Cabrera (1-for-7, 2 SO) and Austin Jackson (1-for-8, 2 SO) each have struggled against Iwakuma who has a 2.59 ERA at Safeci Field in 37 games.

Verlander hasn’t been himself in 2014, yielding three or more earned runs in five of his 11 starts. He’s struggled mightily in his last three outings, serving up 16 earned runs on 28 hits and nine walks in 17 1/3 innings of work. He’s yet to record double-digit strikeouts in any single outing, and his velocity is down to around 93 mph, the lowest of his career by nearly a full mile per hour.

The former Cy Young and MVP has seen his curveball and slider lose some break, too, and batters are making more contact overall, on pitches in the strike zone as well as outside the zone.

At any point, however, Verlander can flip the switch — find the mechanical adjustment, rediscover the feel for his pitches or a combination of the two — and return to dominance, but the Mariners have a chance to get to a struggling Verlander who is missing fewer bats (6.31 K/9) and walking more batters (3.79 BB/9) than ever.

Saturday: Chris Young, RHP vs. Drew Smyly, LHP
Young, again, will attempt to defy logic with his 83-86 mph fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. He’s had his better slider in his last two outings and even logged a few strikeouts with it against the Angels.

In the end, it’s all about command for Young, who has been able to keep hitters off balance and guessing just enough to give the Mariners a chance to win all but two his starts. The long ball is a concern for the veteran, who has allowed nine in 57 1/3 innings.

Smyly, whom the M’s asked for in the trade that sent Doug Fister to Detroit back in 2011, has been up and down in a starting role and surrendered four home runs to Oakland in his last start.

Smyly throws from a high three-quarter arm slot, employing a fastball in the 89-91 mph range, including a two-seamer on the low edge of that. He’ll use a mid-80s cutter to get in on right-handed batters and his best pitch is an above-average sweeping slider that helps him dominate lefties.
The changeup is below average and he doesn’t throw it much.

Command has been Smyly’s downfall thus far, often missing out of the zone, but not far enough and giving up hit sin pitcher’s counts. When ahead in the count, opponents are batting .259/.254/.362 off Smyly — not an awful line, but the .259 average is more than 20 points higher than the league average in that situation.

The southpaw has had some problems putting away hitters, primarily righties, who enter this start batting .286/.364/.508 with seven long balls.

LLoyd McClendon is likely to go to his right-handed lineup in this one, perhaps including Willie Bloomquist at shortstop.

Sunday: Roenis Elias, LHP vs. Max Scherzer, RHP
Elias has run into the age-old ‘one bad inning’ virus in three of his last four starts, but still has battled well and shown maturity beyond his years.

The bad inning is coming thanks to poor fastball command; he’s left a few two-seamers over the middle of the plate and up and catcher Mike Zunino may start calling for more four-seamers in those instances, a pitch he commands better and shows more late movement.

Elias will need to find a way to fair better with runners in scoring position, and the first batter of the inning has been a problem for him, to the tune of a .322/.412/.559 triple-slash, including three home runs and seven walks in 68 plate appearances. He’s even hit two batters to lead off an inning.

From the stretch, Elias hasn’t been able to consistently finish his pitches and get he late bite on his curveball, his best strikeout pitch.

Scherzer has had a good year to date, but his last two starts have been a disaster — 12 earned runs on 20 hits over 13 frames — so he’ll be looking to get well against the Mariners, who have been the worst home offense in baseball through the first two months of play.

The defending Cy Young winner still is racking up the strikeouts — 10.25 per nine innings pitched — but the walks are up and so is the number of fly balls that have left the yard — 8.9 percent, up from 7.6 percent a year ago.

Scherzer has sat 91-93 mph with his four-seam fastball, down a full tick from last season but not so much that it changes what he can do. The problem is the lack of late movement — not unlike VerlanderHis slider hasn’t been the weapon it was in 2013, or 2012 for that matter, but he has gotten more mileage out his changeup.

Scherzer has struggled away from Comerica Park this season in six starts — 18 earned runs in 37 innings — but Safeco isn’t going to hurt the right-hander and he’s owned the Mariners batters he’s faced.

Robinson Cano is 2-for-13 with a home run and Kyle Seager is 3-for-7, but the rest of the active roster is a combined 4-for-31 with one extra-base hit, three walks and 10 punchouts against Scherzer.

Key Notes
The Mariners have struggled to score runs consistently, but have been a little better of late, plating 4.32 runs per game in May, despite a .234/.302/.361 triple-slash during that span. Seattle ranks No. 8 in the AL hitting with runners in scoring position (.251), No. 4 with two outs and runners in scoring position (.246), and No. 7 with a runner at third base and fewer than two outs (.342), explaining how they’ve scored some runs yet the average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage continue to rank at or neat the bottom of the entire league … The Mariners are among the worst offenses in baseball at getting the leadoff hitter on base, and with two strikes the club is batting a paltry .155/.219/.239 by far the worst in the league … Justin Smoak is batting .176/.250/.352 at Safeco Field this season and is 5-for-27 on the homestand. Michael Saunders (.220/.313/.415), Dustin Ackley (.240/.278/.427) and Mike Zunino (.221/.260/.412) also have severe split problems at Safeco Field. One player, other than Cano, that has not struggled at home is Seager, who enters the Detroit series batting .278/.380/.582 in 24 games, including all seven of his home runs.

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

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