Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

(1090 The Fan) — The Seattle Mariners (52-46) return home for three games against the New York Mets, a club that greatly resembles that of the Emerald City Nine, at least offensively.

The Mets (46-52) have scored one more run than Seattle in the same number of games, but the Mariners have a significant advantage in the bullpen, which is where this series may be won or lost. The bad news is, the M’s had to cover 10 extra innings over the weekend and will not get the benefit of Felix Hernandez.

If the Mariners want to score runs versus the Mets, however, they’ll need to deal with the fastball better than they have all year. Seattle ranks No. 14 in the American League in production versus the fastball. Both Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano rank in the top 10 in the AL and Michael Saunders was dealing just fine against them but now is on the disabled list, leaving James Jones and Corey Hart as the lone fringe-average bats against the fastball.

Logan Morrison offers some hope, however, as he’s been above-average against fastballs, cutters and sinkers over the past month and average versus curveballs.

The A’s, conversely, have five elite fastball hitters and four more in the range of average. Cleveland boasts four premium fastball hitters, two more that well above average and three right around average. The Mariners must get better in that department.

Coincidentally, or not, Ben Zobrist is well above-average versus fastballs, as is Marlon Byrd. Both have been names linked to the Mariners this month as the trade deadline nears.


Pitching Matchups | Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
Monday: Roenis Elias, LHP vs. Jonathon Niese, LHP
Elias has labored in each of his last three starts, allowing 26 of 69 batters to reach base. If the lefty is tiring, it’s not showing up in terms of fastball velocity, as he’s sitting 91.3-92.5 mph during that 3-start stretch.

He’s lived up in the zone, however, and has fallen behind in the count a lot forcing him to throw a few too many fastballs. The end-result is a lot of hard hit balls and a lot of runs on the board for the opponents.

The 25-year-old has not pitched since July 9, so the M’s are hoping the time off helps Elias return to form as he faces the Mets for the first time in his career.

Elias Splits (big-leagues):
LHB: .220/.304/.415, 3 HR
RHB: .252/.323/.407, 11 HR
Home: 5.14 ERA, 6 HR, .254 BAA
Road: 3.95 ERA, 8 HR, .238 BAA

As the numbers above suggest, Elias isn’t just giving up hits he’s yielding extra-base hits — 14 home runs, 24 doubles — and the walks totals are high — 40 in 113 frames. More strikes early in the count, including with the curveball and changeup, will allow him to pitch aggressively and without predictability.

Scouting Jonathon Niese
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 (88-91 mph): 50
Two-seam Fastball (88-91): 50
Cutter (86-88): 50
Curveball (73-75): 55
Changeup (82-84) : 45
Control: 60
Command: 50

Niese vs. Mariners
Willie Bloomquist: 2-3
Corey Hart: 2-8, 2B, 3 SO
Logan Morrison: 3-9, 2B, 3 BB
Robinson Cano: 4-12, 2B, 4 SO

Niese Splits
LHB: .230/.271/.345, 2 HR
RHB: .256/.314/.375, 6 HR
Home: 2.80 ERA, 3 HR, .241 BAA
Away: 3.09 ERA, 5 HR, .257 BAA

Niese is coming off the disabled list for this start having not pitched since July 4, not even on rehab assignment. He was shut down with a shoulder strain and could be fit for a shorter outing considering.

The Mets held back right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka over the weekend just in case he’s needed in long relief.

Niese’s fastball generally sits 88-90 mph and touches 91-92. His velocity in 2014 has not been consistent and sank to 87.9 and 86.3 his last two outings, prompting the club to shut him down for a few weeks.

Niese offers both a two-seam fastball and a four-seam version, using both regularly while mixing in a cutter, which helps him get the ball inside on right-handed batters. His low-to-mid 70s curveball is fringe-average but can be a weapon if he keeps it down and gets ahead to set it up. He can throw it for strikes, too, but doesn’t often do so early in counts. The pitch flashes plus.

Niese gets outs with his changeup and fastball, inducing a decent rate of ground balls.

Tuesday: Erasmo Ramirez, RHP vs. Jacob deGrom, RHP
Ramirez has been throwing strikes in Triple-A Tacoma but whether those strikes are quality enough to get by in the big leagues remains to be seen. The stuff is not in question; Ramirez has average velocity and plus movement on his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. The two-seamers sinks and tails away from left-handed batters, as does his plus changeup, setting up an above-average slider.

He also employs a 76-79 mph curveball but has gone away from it in recent outings. Ramirez can be very tough when he has his command, staying down and on the edges and challenging hitters up in the zone in pitcher’s counts.

The problem is, Ramirez often has lost his release point and left too many pitches up and over the middle portion of the plate. He’s fallen behind in counts regularly and either issued too many bases on balls or served up the long ball — or both.

The 24-year-old has never faced the Mets, but outfielder Chris Young has a single in two trips to the plate against him.

Ramirez Splits
LHB: .261/.369/.420, 5 HR
RHB: .276/.344/.506, 5 HR
Home: 3.54 ERA, 4 HR, .219 BAA
Road: 5.23 ERA, 6 HR, .293 BAA

Scouting Jacob deGrom
Four-seam Fastball (93-95 mph): 60
Two-seam Fastball (92-95): 60
Cutter (91-93): 50
Slider (86-87): 55
Curveball (78-81): 50
Changeup (83-85): 40
Control: 45
Command: 40

deGrom Splits
LHB: .234/.325/.360, 2 HR
RHB: .268/.324/.378, 3 HR
Home: 1.83 ERA, 3 HR, .236 BAA
Road: 4.72 ERA, 2 HR, .275 BAA

The right-handed deGrom uses hard stuff to rack up nearly one strikeout per inning and he’s pitched into or beyond the seventh inning in seven of his 12 starts this season, including four of the past five. He does tend to have issues when he faces a club that can hit the fastball and/or work the count and force him to throw strikes with great consistency and with more than just the fastball or cutter.

The rookie throws from three-quarters arm slot and the fastball has life up in the zone and his curveball flashes above average and can be an out pitch for him. He’ll bury the slider under the hands of a left-handed batter but that pitch is rarely a strike so if batters lay off it deGrom tends to go back to the fastball more often than not.

His arm is going to be fresh — he’s been off since July 13 — so he’s likely to have his best velocity up to 96.

Wednesday: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP vs. Bartolo Colon, RHP
The M’s currently list Iwakuma going Thursday. Iwakuma was strong again Friday night in Anaheim but left after just 77 pitches, suggesting perhaps he had a blister developing or some other minor ailment. If for whatever reason he can’t go in this game, the club may have to go back to Taijuan Walker, who would be on schedule.

Iwakuma has figured out his issues with left-handed batters, as they are just 7-for-34 against him over his past four outings with just two extra-base hits.

If he’s healthy he’ll dominate the Mets. Or the Orioles Thursday.

Iwakuma vs. Mets
Bobby Abreu: 0-1, SO
Curtis Granderson: 2-7, BB, 2 SO
Chris Young: 0-1

Iwakuma Splits
LHB: .285/.292/.410, 6 HR
RHB: .200/.223/.305, 5 HR
Home: 2.81 ERA, 7 HR, .231 BAA
Road: 3.18 ERA, 4 HR, .263 BAA

Scouting Bartolo Colon
Four-seam Fastball (90-92 mph): 55
Two-seam Fastball (87-90): 55
Slider (82-84): 55
Changeup (81-84): 45
Control: 60
Command: 55

Colon vs. Mariners
Dustin Ackley: 4-13, 2 SO
Robinson Cano: 6-15, 2-2B, HR, 2 BB
Endy Chavez: 5-14
Brad Miller: 0-3, SO
Willie Bloomquist: 5-13, 2-2B, 3 SO
Kyle Seager: 4-21, BB, 4 SO
Mike Zunino: 1-8, 2 SO

Colon Splits
LHB: .263/.296/.408, 6 HR
RHB: .263/.287/.400, 8 HR
Home: 2.81 ERA, 5 HR, .231 BAA
Road: 5.22 ERA, 9 HR, .289 BAA

Colon throws more than 80 percent fastballs, mixing in a 90-92 mph four-seamer with a two-seamer in the upper-80s that is effective versus lefties and righties alike.

Colon does have an above average slider and a changeup that is merely a show-me pitch, but it’s all about the fastballs and getting ahead. He can be predictable at times, allowing a .368/.362/.544 triple-slash after throwing strike one but he’s only reached a three-ball count 51 times in 528 batters faced.

When ahead, Colon holds opponents to a .230 average and just 12 extra-base hits, but the home run has bitten Colon this season more than in recent years. Getting to him early has been key in 2014, as the 41-year-old has give up 11 of the 14 home runs he’s allowed in the first four frames. He’s yet to allow one beyond the fifth innings and has yielded just four earned runs combined in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

Sandmeyer Says | Steve Sandmeyer, 1090 The Fan
Don’t expect a ton of runs this series (minus the middle game of the set) between the Mariners and Mets. Neither team can string hits together on a regular basis — although both have question marks within the back end of their rotation.

Jon Niese is a solid, dependable left-hander who will go opposite of Roenis Elias in game one. Throw a blanket over the pitching match up in game two (Erasmo Ramirez vs Jacob deGrom), and a couple of plus-starters in Iwakuma and Colon go in game three. Pretty even in terms of the starting match ups — but the Mariners have the advantage coming out of the bullpen — like they do over just about every opponent they face.

Again, I’m not expecting a ton of crooked numbers this series. The Mariners rank 24th out of 30 in total bases this season — and the Mets rank 29th. It could be worse. The Padres could be in town.

Key Stats | Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
Brandon Maurer has pitched out of the bullpen eight times this season and has yet to allow a run. He’s walked just two and surrendered but five hits, striking out 16 of 45 batters faced … Since Kyle Seager hit a walk-off home run to beat the Houston Astros and end the Mariners’ eight-game losing streak, Robinson Cano is batting .353/.412/.490 with 26 extra-base hits. Seager is batting .304/.361/.553 with 38 extra-base hits in that same span … The M’s boast the league’s No. 2 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position at .420, trailing only the Oakland Athletics (.423). The club’s .261 average with runners in scoring position ranks No. 6 in the American League. The problem is, Seattle has produced the third-fewest opportunities in those situations (754), 108 fewer than the A’s, 132 fewer than the Angels and more importantly 94 fewer than Kansas City, 69 fewer than Cleveland and 45 fewer than the New York Yankees, the three clubs right behind Seattle in the Wild Card race.

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