One of the most intriguing – or should I say puzzling – stories so far in this young season has been the Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff. So far, last year’s second-best starting rotation and the best bullpen in baseball have been the weak link on a Seattle Mariners ball club that is still searching for their stride. That being said, the staff has actually put up some solid numbers in the past week and a half.
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Not including the Taijuan Walker meltdown on Saturday, in the past 10 games Mariners starters have posted a 1.93 ERA en route to a 5-2 record. The bullpen is also beginning to look better–though not as polished as the starting rotation now appears–with a reliable 3.39 ERA in that span.
One of the more explicable reasons for the struggles experienced by Seattle Mariners pitchers in 2015 is the sizeable amount of walks that have been issued. The bullpen has been especially guilty, boasting a BB/9 of 4.24 and a K/BB of only 1.33. If your relief pitchers are walking one or two guys in each appearance, you’re not going to be holding very many leads late in ball games. The starting rotation has been better in the walk category, driven by the recent performances by King Felix and the new town hero, J.A. Happ. In the last ten games, the starting rotation has posted a BB/9 of 2.48 and a K/BB of 3.78. Neither of those numbers are too exciting to look at, but nonetheless the starting 5 have been effective.
Apr 22, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners fans applaud pitcher J.A. Happ (33) after he was relieved during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
When Jack Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners traded Michael Saunders to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Happ, it was clear that they were looking for a reliable, experienced left handed starter. Well, Happ has been all that and a bunch more, dominating batters in all four starts en route to a 2-1 record and an impressive 2.30 ERA. On top of that, the 32 year-old lefty has been sitting around 91-93 mph on his fastball. That’s some promising zip from a middle-aged southpaw.
As a matter of fact, the starting rotation owes much of its recent success to the newcomer Happ and King Felix. In their last 4 starts combined, Felix and Happ are 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA and a devastating WHIP of 0.88. Both have sent their share of batters back to the pine as well, with a K/BB of 13.50 and a K/9 of 8.19. While the rest of the staff is beginning to wake up from their poorly timed Spring slumber, The King and his new squire have been holding down the kingdom. But what is the main reason that Felix and Happ have seen elite success in the last 10 games? It’s walks, or the lack thereof.
As opposed to the rest of the pitching staff, which has struggled with nibbling around the zone, the duo have a BB/9 of 0.61. What happens when you don’t walk batters? You allow fewer runners to reach base and you allow fewer runs. The bullpen and the rest of the starting rotation still have a lot of room for improvement, especially in the walk category, but their performances as of late have been a marked improvement from the first two to three weeks of the season.
Although Taijuan Walker has continued to struggle, allowing 7 earned runs and 3 home runs in 3 innings on Saturday, the pitching staff is definitely getting their heads back on straight. These guys were dominant in 2014, and with J.A. Happ carving batters up, it won’t be long before they are clicking as a unit. With the filthy set-up man Tom Wilhelmsen set to come off a hyper-extended right elbow injury by mid-May, the Seattle Mariners pitching staff is poised to find the form that they locked in for most of 2014.
In the meantime, Nelson Cruz is making history, slugging two more homers on Saturday bring his season count to 13 and tie for the third most dingers in the first 24 games of an MLB season. Cruz is behind only Alex Rodriguez (2007) and Albert Pujols (2006) who both hit 14 bombs in that span. Hopefully, the pitching staff and the rest of the Seattle Mariners ball club can find their form in time to bottle the lightning coming out of Cruz’s “Boomstick” before it’s gone.