Sep 29, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Fernando Rodney (56) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Tampa defeated Toronto 7-6. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Blown saves happen. They happen to all teams, and can strike at any time. Even the Atlanta Braves, who employ Craig Kimbrel, have to suffer through blown saves every once in a while. For some teams, blown saves come more often than others. And while there’s still a good argument to be made that Fernando Rodney is a high quality relief pitcher, his tons of strikeouts, tons of walks approach is bound to break down from time to time. Last night it broke down. Oh, how it broke down.
Let’s not allow the end of the game to completely overshadow the rest of it. Hisashi Iwakuma vs. David Price was set to be a marquee pitching matchup, a real life battle of aces. Both hurlers delivered on every bit of their promise, with each starter giving their team a dominant outing to work with. The ninth inning sucked, but it doesn’t change the fact that this game featured two of baseball’s very best pitchers performing at a crazyily high level.
In terms of pure stuff, Price has always been one of the game’s more exciting guys. He used every bit of that stuff last night, blowing through the Mariners lineup to the tune of twelve strikeouts and a walk in a complete-game win. But it was Iwakuma who looked positioned to steal the W after throwing eight innings of shutout ball, walking nobody and striking out five. Through eight innings, the game’s only run was a first inning James Jones double followed by a Robinson Cano RBI groundout. Both starting pitchers dazzled. Nobody so much as drew a walk until the ninth inning. Okay fine, let’s talk about the ninth inning.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again now: Fernando Rodney has been good for the Seattle Mariners thus far. He has an elite strikeout rate, and that’s generally been good enough to mask his typically high number of walks. Closers are the easiest baseball players to criticize because of the nature of their job. If the closer does his job, the team wins. If he falters, the team loses. Fans thus allow the closer a much, much smaller margin of error than they do any other player on the team.
Brad Miller had another 0-fer last night and is batting .156. He’s been one of baseball’s worst hitters this year, falling a country mile short of the production he was expected to provide. Yet nobody’s calling for his demotion – we’re all too focused on the blown save. Rodney has done way more to help the M’s this year than Miller has, and Miller’s the everyday shortstop and a supposed long-term building block. Closers deserve a lot more slack than they get.
Rodney’s night started with a David DeJesus home run to tie the game with no outs. Rodney then retired the Rays two best players, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, before allowing a single to James Loney. Desmond Jennings singled, Matt Joyce singled home the eventual winning run, and Yunel Escobar walked on four pitches. Goodnight, Fernando Rodney. This was a classic meltdown, with the token walk thrown in even after the damage had been done. Look, these things happen. I’m not arguing that blown saves don’t suck a whole hell of a lot, just that we should be aware that while this feels like a worse outing than any given 2014 Charlie Furbush appearance, it really isn’t. It sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world.
Afternoon game today, with Brandon Maurer and Jake Odorizzi facing off at 12:40. Odorizzi came over in the Wil Myers/James Shields extravaganza, and has been both excellent and awful this season as a rookie. He’s compensated for a high walk rate with a bonkers number of strikeouts, posting numbers that look an awful lot like what you’d get from… Fernando Rodney. His 3.90 FIP suggests a major league starting pitcher, but his 5.79 ERA reminds us that he’s had an awful lot of bad BABIP luck and has an elevated home run rate. With guys like this it isn’t as easy as saying “well his fielding-independent numbers are good, so the ERA is bound to come down.” Odorizzi’s strikeout rate won’t stay this high, and when it drops he’s going to have to start walking less guys and keeping the ball in the park. As a fly ball guy he’s not a great fit for Safeco Field, and hopefully the Mariners can exploit that. Maurer, of course, sucks, so brace yourself for the opposite of yesterday’s game.