(1090 The Fan) — The Seattle Mariners (44-38) head out on the road and start the trip with three games at Houston (36-47), where they won two of three back in May. The M’s beat up the Astros pitching staff that series, plating 21 runs on 29 hits but Houston did the same to the M’s in a very high-scoring series.

Since then, the Mariners have separated themselves from the fourth-place Astros, but that’s more of an endorsement of Seattle’s play than an indictment on the Astros, who appear to have taken a full step forward this season after back-to-back-to-back 100-plus loss seasons.

Pitching Matchups | Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
Monday: Taijuan Walker, RHP vs. Collin McHugh, RHP
Walker makes his 2014 big-league debut in the same park he made his major-league debut last summer. He battled shoulder issues all spring and was inconsistent until two of his last three starts in Triple-A Tacoma. Three starts back he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Last time out he was about as good as he’s ever been, pounding the strike zone with his four-seam fastball, touching 96 mph in the ninth inning and finding consistency with his curveball the second half of the outing.

It also appears he’s found the more athletic version of his delivery, which creates easy velocity and a more commanding arsenal.

This will be Walker’s fourth career start in the big leagues, all before his 22nd birthday.

Walker vs. Astros
Jose Altuve: 2-5, 2B
Chris Carter: 0-2, 2 SO
Jason Castro: 0-2, 2 SO
Carlos Corporan: 0-2, SO
Matt Dominguez: 0-3, BB
Marwin Gonzalez: 0-2
L.J. Hoes: 1-2
Jonathan Villar: 1-5, 2B, SO

Walker Splits (big-leagues):
LHB: .194/.231/.306, 0 HR
RHB: .222/.286/.278,
Home: 3.60 ERA, 0 HR, .263 BAA
Road: 3.60 ERA, 0 HR, .171 BAA

McHugh came out of nowhere to shut out the Mariners April 22 in Seattle, striking out 12 and allowing just three hits in 6 2/3 innings. He’s been excellent since, too, though the M’s roughed up the 27-year-old May 4.

Scouting Collin McHugh
Grades reflect 20-80 scouting scale; 80 is outstanding, among league’s best, 50 is major-league average, 20 is poor, not in line with big-league standards.
Four-seam Fastball (90-93 mph) : 55
Two-seam Fastball (88-90) : 45
Slider (84-86) : 55
Curveball (71-74) : 55
Changeup (83-86) : 50
Control: 50
Command: 55

McHugh is a get-ahead right-hander with three quality secondary pitches, all of which can induce swings and misses. He’s especially adept at coming after falling behind 1-0 or 2-1. In those scenarios, opponents are 32-for-141 (.227), among the league’s best.

McHugh is not a ground ball pitcher, however, and at some point the fly balls will likely bite him a little more than they have thus far — just five homers allowed — especially at home where Minute Maid Park is hitter friendly and the ball travels well to all fields.

McHugh vs. Mariners
Dustin Ackley: 0-4, BB, 3 SO
Willie Bloomquist: 3-6, 2B, SO
John Buck: 2-2, 2-2B
Robinson Cano: 2-6, 3B, 2 SO
Brad Miller: 0-2, SO
Michael Saunders: 2-5, 2 SO
Mike Zunino: 0-2, 2 SO
Kyle Seager: 0-4, SO

McHugh Splits
LHB: .194/.282/.288, 1 HR
RHB: .179/.261/.325, 4 HR
Home: 4.11 ERA, .181 BAA, 2 HR
Away: 1.69 ERA, .193BAA, 3 HR

Tuesday: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP vs. Jarred Cosart, RHP
Iwakuma is looking to bounce back from two sub par starts in Kansas City and at home versus the Boston Red Sox.

The good news is the club says the right-hander’s neck issues are behind him now and last time out his fastball velocity was the best its been since he returned from the disabled list in May at 89.6 mph on average.

Still, Iwakuma is throwing a lot of splitters and sliders and when batters are not chasing he’s falling behind and giving up the advantage he’s creating early in the count. Look for him to use the curveball a little more to get ahead, and to use the fastball more often in splitter counts.

Left-handed batters have hit Iwakuma soundly this season after he held them to a .216/.254/.345 triple-slash a year ago.

Iwakuma vs. Astros
Altuve: 6-16, 2B, 2 SO
Carter: 3-15, 2B, HR, 2 BB, 6 SO
Castro: 3-17, BB, 3 SO
Corporan: 0-3
Dominguez: 5-16, 2B, BB, 3 SO
Dexter Fowler: 1-6, 2 SO
Gonzalez: 6-10, 2B, HR, 2 SO
Jesus Guzman: 1-1
Hoes: 0-3, SO
Alex Presley: 1-6
George Springer: 1-3, 2B, HR
Villar: 1-5, 3B, SO

Iwakuma Splits
LHB: .306/.315/.449, 5 HR
RHB: .209/.241/.351, 5 HR
Home: 3.35 ERA, 6 HR, .254 BAA
Road: 3.71 ERA, 4 HR, .270 BAA

Cosart has faced the Mariners twice this season with solid results. He’s yielded just nine hits in 13 innings while walking seven and punching out 10. The M’s have managed just two extra-base hits against him, a double from Abraham Almonte and a Kyle Seager home run.

He throws hard, cuts the fastball in on left-handed batters and uses a sinker to get ground balls, perhaps his best pitch and most valuable skill.

Scouting Jarred Cosart
Four-seam Fastball (92-96 mph): 55
Sinker (92-95): 55
Cutter (93-95): 55
Curveball (77-80): 50
Changeup (78-82): 40
Control: 40
Command: 45

Cosart’s control and command are both fringe-average at best, but there are times when he’s good enough to dominate. He’s had a terrific June and has surrendered just one earned run on 12 hits in 15 frames over his past two starts. He’s issued only nine walks in his last six outings, a trend that bodes well for him if it continues.

Cosart vs. Mariners
Ackley: 1-5, 2 BB
Cano: 1-5, SO
James Jones: 1-2, BB
Miller: 0-6, 2 SO
Saunders: 1-3, SO
Seager: 1-3, HR, 6 BB
Mike Zunino: 0-6, BB, SO

Cosart Splits
LHB: .228/.316/.344, 4 HR
RHB: .271/.326/.347, 6 HR
Home: 3.59 ERA, .259 BAA, 3 HR
Road: 3.61 ERA, .239 BAA, 3 HR

Wednesday: Chris Young, RHP vs. Brad Peacock, RHP
Young’s last outing went just five innings, but he held the Indians to four hits and a run. It’s also worth noting the veteran walked just one and had his curveball and slider both working in tallying four punch outs. For a fly ball pitcher, getting an acceptable amount of strikeouts is key to getting through the lineup.

Young faced the Astros at Safeco Field April 23, allowing three earned runs on four hits. He walked four in that game but whiffed six and the Mariners ended up winning 5-3 on a walk-off four-bagger by Seager that ended the club’s eight-game losing streak. Since that game, the Mariners are 36-25.

Young has been merely passable on the road despite the solid overall numbers across the board. Batters have tagged him for eight long balls in 42 innings and his strikeouts-to-walks ratio sinks to 13-18. When the first numbers is smaller than the second, that’s not good, Ron Fairly once told me.

Young vs. Astros
Altuve: 0-4
Carter: 1-2, HR, BB, SO
Castro: 1-3, 2B
Dominguez: 0-2, BB
Fowler: 4-10, 3 BB, 3 SO
Presley: 0-3, 2 SO
Springer: 0-2, BB
Villar: 1-3, 2B, 2 SO

Young Splits
LHB: .221/.300/.379, 6 HR
RHB: .206/.275/.382, 6 HR
Home: 2.19 ERA, 4 HR, .178 BAA
Road: 4.29 ERA, 8 HR, .255 BAA

Peacock is a little short on command and secondary stuff to be more than a back-end starter, but he’s holding up that end of the bargain with consistency, going six or more innings in seven of his last nine starts, including a decent outing versus the Mariners May 2.

The right-hander is more of a fly ball pitcher than anything else, but he’s missing enough bats — 7.8 K/9 to offset some of his control problems and give the Astros a chance to stay in games.

Scouting Brad Peacock
Four-seam Fastball (91-94 mph): 50
Slider (82-84): 50
Curveball (75-77) 45
Changeup (80-83): 50
Control: 35
Command: 40

Peacock’s fastball lacks ideal movement and he’s throwing it a lot less this season — 53.8 percent — than in year’s past. He’s replaced that with more breaking balls — both the slider and knuckle-curve — and it’s helped him versus left-handed batters.

Peacock vs. Mariners
Ackley: 3-11, 2B, 2 SO
Cano: 0-2, BB
Chavez: 1-2
Miller: 4-9, SO
Saunders: 1-4, BB
Seager: 5-14, 2B, HR, 2 SO
Zunino: 1-4, HR, 2 SO

Peacock Splits
LHB: .247/.347/.322, 2 HR
RHB: .264/.347/.473, 6 HR
Home: 4.64 ERA, 4 HR, .272 BAA
Road: 3.10 ERA, 4 HR, .205 BAA

Sandmeyer Says | Steve Sandmeyer, 1090 The Fan
When people spoke earlier in the season of the schedule softening up a bit, this is what they had in mind. Three games at Houston, a day off, then three in Chicago — before returning to Seattle for a seven-game home stand prior to the All-Star Break. It sets up nicely, especially when you consider Taijuan Walker is part of the rotation now and Felix Hernandez has been pitching better than even…Felix Hernandez.

Don’t underestimate how instrumental the bullpen has been in this team’s success so far (see Churchill’s mid-season report card). They will play a prominent role in this series as well — with two of the three starters (Walker and Young) not expecting to rack up a ton of innings. Walker will be on a standard leash of between 90 and 100 pitches — while Young is a guy who gets hit a bit more the third time through the lineup and is good for around only six innings or so more often than not.

Watch for Michael Saunders to be a catalyst for the offense now that he has a few games under his belt since coming off the DL. He won’t alone be enough to solve the Mariners offensive issues, but every little bit helps — with a lineup that is still in dire need of a bat or two.

Speaking of which, it’s time for the local media and the fans to demand more. This organization has no excuse whatsoever to let an opportunity like this slip by. All the American League requires at this stage is for a team to keep its head above water. It represents one of the cleanest paths to a wild card berth since I can remember. Fans don’t want excuses about adding a given amount of payroll or how difficult the trade market is. They have been more than patient with this organization in the past. It’s time the team does something bold — like actually looking and acting the part of a contender — and making moves to solidify that status.

Key Notes | Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
Kyle Seager was named the American League’s player of the week Monday, the second such award for the M’s budding star this season. Seager went 14-for-24 with five extra-base hits in six games to earn the club’s third POTW of the season. This is the first time since 2006 Seattle has earned more than two POTW awards … With the 3-0 shutout Sunday over the Cleveland Indians, the M’s recorded their fifth shutout of the month of June … As Seattle hits the road it’s worth noting they boast the third-best win-loss record away from home this season at 23-16. They have won 11 of their last 15 road contests and are 9-3 on the road this month. The Mariners were 18-27 on the road at the All-Star break a year ago.

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