Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
April 17, 2008 11:05 PM
Posted by Geoff Baker
Brandon Morrow, above, closes out a perfect ninth inning to complete an 8-1 win by Seattle over the Oakland A's.
Something is seriously wrong with the baseball universe. At least, when it comes to taking pitches, drawing walks and generating runs. The Mariners have spent much of the past decade free-swinging their way to oblivion while the A's sat back and worked opposing pitchers to death.
That wasn't the case here this week. The Mariners turned that entire scenario in reverse, sweeping a two-game series from the A's with Thursday night's victory providing the capper. It was the A's swinging away early and often on strike-thrower Carlos Silva, who lasted seven innings for the fourth consecutive time this season. Oakland couldn't hit a thing off Silva or Felix Hernandez the night before.
Seattle, meanwhile, drew four more walks before the game was even three innings old. Three of those came in a five-run third inning that knocked Oakland starter Lenny DiNardo from the game. One walk, by Kenji Johjima of all people, Mr. I-Never-Saw-a-Pitch-I-Couldn't-Hack-At, forced home a critical third run that frame. What's going on here?
"To be real honest with you, the last two games, the offense has made the big difference,'' Silva told me afterwards. "They always give me the lead. After they scored those runs, I felt more relaxed. I was throwing the fastball right there. They made the big difference. I wasn't afraid to make mistakes because I knew I had a big lead. If I made a mistake, let's go, give me another batter. That's it.''
Hear more of what Silva said right here in this audio clip.
The Mariners already have eight outings of at least seven innings or more by starters so far this season. That's about what they accomplished in the first two months of last season. This season is not yet three weeks old. You're seeing a bit of why Silva was brought here. A guy who throws seven innings per night to go 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA is a little more valuable than the five or six-inning pitcher who does it and relies on his bullpen for help.
Remember, Silva had as many seven-inning or more outings last year, 12 in all, as Hernandez did.
"It means a lot,'' Mariners manager John McLaren said of that seven-inning capability. "It means you don't have to overuse your bullpen. When your guys are fresh, they've got better velocity, better stuff.''
McLaren joked afterwards about having to scramble to find ways to use his relievers. He probably doesn't want to tempt fate by kidding around like that, but it is very unusual for this team to find itself in such a predicament. Morrow looked good in retiring the side in the ninth. Got his fastball up to 98 mph, threw a slider for a strike after falling behind 1-0 in a count and later used several change-ups to keep the A's off-balance.
"That was something I've been working on, so I was happy to be able to throw that coming in,'' Morrow said. "I think the change-up's going to be great for sure.''
When you bring heat the way Morrow can, any change of pace that can land in the strike zone is going to give hitters fits.
Raul Ibanez had his second straight three-hit night. That's the sixth time he's done that consecutively in his career. His fourth three-hit night this season. He's batting .343 and looking locked-in.
Ibanez knows just how valuable it is to have starters who can go deeper than what we saw in 2006.
"Those guys did a phenomenal job,'' Ibanez said of Hernandez and Silva. "They worked fast, they pounded the strike zone and they forced a very patient team to swing the bat.''
And swing it they did. Only damper of the evening? Jose Vidro, just before he laced that two-run single in the third, fouled a pitch off his leg. He shook off the pain and came through, but was sporting a serious-sized ice pack on the leg afterwards. Let's see what his status is tomorrow.
Other than that, the M's continue to work the count, connect when they have to and are getting the kind of starting pitching that won't need five-run innings to win games. The bullpen is also as rested as it's been all year heading to Anaheim. Let's see how that plays out. As far as they're concerned, though, they could not have started off this trip any better.