This season has been rough for young pitchers. So, so many marquee arms have gone down with career-derailing injuries, and the game of baseball is worse off for it. It’s not all doom and gloom, of course, as not every pitcher is going down with a serious arm ailment. One of those non-injured pitchers is Roenis Elias. He pitched today, in fact. And today, he pitched the best game of his young career.
Facing a dangerous Detroit Tigers lineup, the Seattle Mariners rookie starter threw an absolute gem. Elias got his first career complete game, which doubled as his first career complete game shutout. Torii Hunter, Nick Castellanos, and Bryan Holaday each got a hit. Each also struck out, as did four other Tigers who did not get hits. One of those hitless Tigers, Austin Jackson, struck out twice. Victor Martinez drew a walk, but aside from that, nothing. 111 pitches. CGSO for the rookie.
Nobody saw this coming, of course. Every chapter of the Roenis Elias story is crazy and hard to believe. He was a complete afterthought during spring training, even as the injuries started piling up. He didn’t really seem to have “earned” his chance at the big leagues quite yet, but managed to do enough things right that the fifth rotation spot was his, somehow. Through the first two months of the year he’s been a middle of the rotation revelation, and this only serves as further evidence of his upside. Elias is good, with flashes of brilliance. Today was a flash, of course, but evidence continues to suggest that there’s more than a number four in there.
Going on their fourth straight day of no Robinson Cano, the Bizzaro Mariners once again came up with enough offense to support a good pitching performance. Recall that the opposing starter was Max Scherzer, the league’s most recent Cy Young recipient. Against the Detroit ace, the M’s makeshift lineup scored four runs on nine hits. In the first it was doubles by Endy Chavez and Michael Saunders. In the fifth it was Willie Bloomquist doubling in Dustin Ackley and scoring on a James Jones single. And in the seventh it was Brad Miller with a solo home run to center. Nothing flukey about this win – the M’s stepped way up against one of the best in the game. Brad Miller! This win felt better than most other wins, despite the wonkiness of the lineup.
Try as hard as you can to feel negative about the M’s right now – you probably can’t. That was a hell of a game by Elias, and the supporting cast showed up to help out. Miller’s alive, The M’s have allowed 215 runs this season, or less than any AL team except Oakland. They’ve still got the fifth-best run differential in the league, which suggests a legit playoff contender. Their run differential is only four less than Detroit! The teams right ahead of them in the playoff hunt are New York, Baltimore, and Texas. None of them have more promising runs scored/runs allowed tallies than the Mariners. The rotation right now is awesome and only looks to be better going forward. This is a lot of fun, despite years of cynicism and a .500 record.
Next up is a one-game layover in New York, where the Mariners will go for a “sweep” that we all pretended they’d completed a long time ago. This is a makeup of the game that got rained out in the Bronx, so instead of an off day the Mariners get a chance to go a game over .500, again. If the season ended today the Yankees would be the second wild card team, and as nuts as it is to say so early in the year, this game matters for playoff positioning’s sake. The M’s are really going for it, and the Yankees are a comparably talented team that’s just barely in their way. It’s more than just New York keeping Seattle from a wild card spot, and ultimately it will take months of better than .500 ball for anyone in the chase to secure a spot. We know nothing now, except that every game is important.
Felix Hernandez tomorrow. Felix Hernandez, in New York, against David Phelps. 4:05pm start time, and a win means we get to celebrate the same sweep twice. In 2010, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto threw back-to-back complete game shutouts. Nobody’s done it since. Why not Felix? Why not now?