Series Preview: Cloudy Mariners Visit Sunshine Rays

Seattle Mariners (11-12)Tampa Bay Rays (14-8)

Probable starters:

Monday, April 30th

Jeremy Hellickson5.314.9713110.21813.987.612.545.6

Pitcher Preview: Hellickson is hittable, what’s helped him greatly is the amount of contact he’s induced very early in the season and the solid defense that sits behind him. He doesn’t over power anyone with his fastball but he’s got a great change-up and a good cutter. The curveball -which has its flashes—, is an inconsistent if all together rather average pitch. The Mariners will need to get creative, run the bases well, and maybe get lucky with a few line drives.

Felix Hernandez2.753.322.85.50.27320.980.75.941.4

Pitcher Preview:  Felix is Felix. His velocity is sitting around 92, 93 and his change is just simply amazing. But without run support Felix’s efforts won’t mean much.

Tuesday, May 1st

Matt Moore5.355.2115.7130.28818.274.911.135.1

Pitcher Preview:  He’s got an electric arm and he can and will miss bats. He’s got three plus pitches in his change-up, slider and fastball and is a borderline future “ace” or #1. You all know how I feel about calling guys #1. I think there are about 5, maybe 6, #1 type guys in all of baseball and I think he maybe on his way to joining the elite club. He throws a hard and heavy fastball, and he throws it a lot. It’s a good pitch for him. But his command hasn’t quite been what it’s been in the past early this season and he’s allowed a few pitches to drift over the heart.

If the Mariners want to have a shot they HAVE to capitalize on mistake pitches. Too often the Mariners have swung through or even foul off “their pitch”.  They can’t allow Moore to get off the hook with mistakes. Once they got him on the ropes they need to finish the job.

Hector Noesi5.775.19158.80.31628.351.312.928.3

Pitcher Preview: The coaching staff had talked about taking away one of his breaking balls at the start of spring training and I think it’s time to reinforce that. His slider has been good but his curve hasn’t had the snap or break to it and it’s been thrown in poor situations. Have him throw less fastballs, more change-ups and mix-in his slider. Noesi is a really interesting story line this year.

Wednesday, May 2nd

James Shields3.313.0919.15.40.30222.278.41356.5

Pitcher Preview: Shields is a good, if not a great, pitcher. He’s going to get his share of swings-and-misses. He’s not quite got the ceiling that Matt Moore has but he’s a bit wiser and a bit craftier.

He is very good at keeping the ball on the ground and getting quick outs. If you get it in the air it has a good chance of going out, as he’s traditionally struggled with fly balls leaving the park, but that’s a big if. He mixes his pitches very, very well and isn’t afraid to throw any of his pitches at any time. But of late has struggled to consistently throw strikes.
Remember it’s early in the season and it’s better to be facing these pitchers before they have everything back and working for them. He throws a lot of four seam and cut fastball (over 50% between the two) with quite a smattering of change-ups and curveballs.
The idea here is to jump on the four seam fastball and when he’s ahead in the count let the change-up away go and sit on the curveball -as he tends to hand it-and hopefully you want get burned too often by the cutter. This is, in my opinion, is going to be the toughest game of the series.

Blake Beavan4.274.8711.31.90.27118.779.17.534.5

Pitcher Preview: Beavan has been good early on this season and despite the desparity between his ERA and FIP it’s because of the weak contact that he induces. His fastball sits in the low 90’s but because of his height, length, release point and deception it creeps up on hitters and plays up faster/harder. His curveball is a solid pitch, if not even maybe a plus pitch at times.

If he can keep the ball in the park the Mariners have a very good chance to keep the score close and give the Mariners an opportunity to win the game.

Thursday, May 3rd

Jeff Niemann3.713.5022.79.10.23220.754.112.551.7

Pitcher Preview: He’s been quite the enigma. First he’s good, then he’s okay, then he sucked, now he’s good. Make up your mind! He’s missing bats and showing success with his off-speed pitches. He’s throwing his change-up more often and it’s worked for him to balance out his stuff. He’s throwing A TON of ground balls, because of the absurd use of his two seam fastball.  His slider and curveball have both tightened up and because he’s throwing them less they are starting to be little more effective for him. He does walk guys and in the past has fallen behind hitters early in the count by not throwing so many strike one pitches.

Mariners need to make him throw pitches, make contact when they have too and wait for one of his merely average-to-below average sliders to pound. His slider can be his undoing and he has shown a tendency to fall in love with it too often. Lay off pitches low in the zone and make him pay when leaves pitches out over the plate.

Kevin Millwood3.234.0115.28.10.36018.757.84.548

Pitcher Preview: I’ll continue to contest that Millwood is a half way decent pitcher. What’s important for him is to continue to work the corners. However, leaving him in the game past the 6th inning is a terrible idea. If he can get average defense behind him and the umpire behind the plate gives him those corners, he could be very strong.

 Probable Defensive Alignment:

CMiguel Olivo138-0.1CJose Molina0580
1BJustin Smoak-0.856-0.51BCarlos Pena-0.31470.7
2BDustin Ackley-1.980-0.12BBen Zobrist1.21160.7
3BKyle Seager2.81030.73BEvan Longria-3.11711
SSBrendan Ryan3.4610.5SSSean Rodriguez-0.350-0.1
LFChone Figgins-4.988-0.3LFDesmond Jennings1.21210.9
CFMichael Saunders-1.11480.7CFB.J. Upton0.81340.3
RFIchiro Suzuki4.7910.7RFMatt Joyce0.11911.1
DHJesus Montero-179-0.2DHLuke ScottN/A1540.5
BJohn JasoN/A1790.2BBrandon Allen0.4400
BCasper Wells0.11300.1BElliot Johnson-0.875-0.1
BAlex Liddi-0.51260.2BChris Gimenez1850.2
BMunenori Kawasaki-0.643-0.2BJeff Keppinger0.1860.1


Tom Wilhelmsen14.1-0.0927.96.60.33337.56.32.920.4
Brandon League11.20.3415.28.70.22957.603.70.2
Charlie Furbush6-0.2733.38.30.16728.6253.08-0.1
Erasmo Ramirez10.10.0411.49.10.2195012.54.76-0.1
Steve Delabar11.0-0.5329.84.30.24042.933.32.96-0.3
Lucas Luetge5.20.2233.312.50.38538.500.2660.2
Hisashi Iwakuma5-0.0620100.16728.6403.9-0.1
Burke Badenhop10-0.3715.28.70.31348.633.33.96-0.3
Brandon Gomes2036.427.30.5002503.450
J.P. Howell6.20.95306.70.47123.503.460.2
Jake McGee4.1-0.1033.314.30.4554503.040.1
Joel Peralta8.202913.20.28633.314.33.230.1
Fernando Rodney9.10.3621.65.40.1545003.210.2
Wade Davis9.20.2519.54.90.2903503.310.3

Series Six-pack, featuring:

Robbie Knopf, Editor of  Fansided’s “Ray Colored Glasses

Harrison Crow: What do you think of your Manager (Joe Maddon), I’m always intrigued by what people think of their managers? What is the good that comes from him? What is the bad?

Robbie Knopf: What’s special about Joe Maddon is to clubhouse atmosphere he has created. He gets everyone to hustle, everyone to do anything they can to help the team. His shifts get crazy after a certain point, but you get to understand that it’s another manifestation of him doing everything he can to help the team win.

HC: Matt Joyce, will he ever be able to hit against left handers? Or will he just be a really good platoon bat?

RK: Joyce has had some better at-bats versus lefties the past couple of seasons, but unfortunately better is a comparative word. He’s making progress but he’s kind of being deterred by the fact that the Rays have so much versatility on their roster so that they really have no need at all to play Joyce every day against lefties.

He’s passable now after being useless before, but he may never be anywhere near as good against lefties as he his against righties. He’s made progress, but it’s happening too slowly to inspire any confidence.

HC: I get that Jeremy Hellickson has some top notch stuff. Living in Montgomery I’ve bare witness to that stuff first hand. But when does it start to translate? He’s been out producing his FIP and SIERA for almost a year now. It’s eventually going to come back and bite him, right?

RK: Hellickson is an anomaly overall, but he has the potential to get his FIP and SIERA to more closely resemble his nice ERA. The big thing for Hellickson is that his two primary pitches, his fastball and dynamic changeup, feature incredible amounts of movement, and he also has a third pitch that he has mostly kept in his back pocket but has started to use a little bit more this season, his big curveball.

Hellickson has had a lot of trouble putting away hitters. He’s allowing foul ball after foul ball and then he’s allowing balls in play, especially flyballs. But because of the movement on his pitches, he allows crazy amounts of pop-ups. 22% of his flyballs where pop-ups in 2011 compared to the 14% league average. Hellickson walk rate thus far in the big leagues is more of the same as he has walked a lot more guys because he couldn’t put them away rather than because he lost the strike zone. But while Hellickson may never put up a good groundball rate (although he has thus far in 2012), his strike out to walk ratio could be bound to shoot up. His pitches’ movement and his control and command are too good for it not to.

The big pitch for Hellickson is his curveball. Hitters are constantly focused on his fastball-change combo and he can get a fair amount of K’s with those two pitches alone. But when Hellickson can mix in a two strike curve, like he did against Albert Pujols in his last start, he can get big K’s.

Hellickson isn’t due for as big of a regression as people think. With the Rays defense behind him, Hellickson could keep his ERA in the 2.90-3.20 range with his FIP more around 3.60 (say a 0.8 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, and 7.5 K/9).

If Hellickson can’t put away hitters more efficiently, yes, a regression awaits him and it could be ugly. But Hellickson is good enough to fix his peripheral problems and prove himself to be a good pitcher by any measure.


Robbie Knopf: We’ve been hearing a lot about the Pineda-Montero trade with the word coming that Pineda will miss the entire 2012 season. Did you like the trade when it occurred? What are your thoughts on the trade now?

Harrison Crow: I liked the trade from the beginning with the exception to giving up Campos. Campos is something really special and giving him up really, really makes me sad and it kind of takes away from the awesome depth of pitching the Mariners had at every level and there was already a short drop off at the short season level already…

Aside from Campos, and I’m sure you realize this with all your pitching depth, young arms are violitate. One day they are awesome, another they are not. One day they are one of the best up and coming arms in the organization the next they are the forgotten man with surgery.

Pineda has ALWAYS been a concern for injury. Couple that with his youth and lack of maturity it’s going to breed something bad. The Mariners were exceptionally smart to deal one of their best assests and strengths for such a grave and frustrating weakness.

I liked the trade. I hate seeing him injured and I wanted to see the Mariners –and more specifically Jesus Montero–face off against the young fireballer. But these things happen and that’s part of the deal.

RK: Ichiro is hitting .293 thus far as a 38 year old in 2012. Has he rediscovered something? Is this is last hurrah?

HC: Ichiro was the #3 hitter for his 6+ years with the Orix Blue Waves. If you actually go back and look at him as a hitter back then he was different from the lead off hitter that we have grown accustomed to seeing. Not completely dissimilar to what he has become. He works counts much better and doesn’t swing at so many poor pitches.

Before he used his contact skills and speed to get on base. Now, he uses his pitch recognition and his bat speed to drive balls. He’s made a few more physical adjustments at the plate to gain an advantage to pulling the ball (something he’s not done much of in the past) but besides that we’re just seeing a side to Ichiro that has been there but wasn’t been executed previously. It’s been fun to watch unfold.

RK: What do you think about the M’s’ young lineup? Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, and even Justin Smoak have shown signs of life. Do the M’s have a young core of position players they can build around?

HC: We’ve got a great young core… if it develops. That’s really the question here going into things. Saunders and Alex Liddi both are coming a long much nicer than anyone expected. But both Ackley and Smoak have taken steps back and have been rather frustrating at times with their plate discipline. Montero has been hacking inexplicably bad. Just somethings still need to be developed

Then you also have guys like Vinny Catricala and Nick Franklin that are both very good hitters and are going to be pounding on the door very soon themselves down in the minor leagues. So there is still a lot to develop here. There is a ton to like. But it’s not quite ready…not yet anyways.

RK: One alarming thing for the Mariners lineup is their strikeout to walk ratio: 161-54, third-worst in the AL. Will the patience come with more experience for these young players? Is part of the problem seeing guys like Ichiro who is a great hitter but has never drawn a lot of walks?

HC: Actually this is a huge, HUGE concern of mine. Bryant (our Chief and Editor here at SodoMojo) and I have had quite a few phone conversations … well, rants… that at one time I’m sure just turned into screaming and incoherent bable due to frustration.

Part of it is that, yes, we have some hitters in the line-up that don’t take a lot of walks. Kawasaki, Olivo and Ichiro don’t traditionally walk much. While that’s one average 8-10 PAs a game. That’s still too many at bats just to give up getting on base.

Yet, the problems really steamed from Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero. Kind of where we thought we had a previous strength in the young guys. It’s disconcerting but they haven’t reached 100 PAs for the season so I’m just going to let it pass by and try not to let it put me in a bad mood.

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