The mystery of Hector Noesi and the Mariners

Hector Noesi had two games and one inning with Seattle and they designated him for assignment, then traded him to Texas. He gave up a game winning home run in his last appearance with the Mariners and he struggled in his previous outing. In the one inning over two games he gave up 2 hits, 3 runs and struck out two. He only faced 6 batters, yet the Mariners dumped the 27 year old pitcher.

He did have a poor showing in 2013. He was 2-12 in 22 games, 18 starts, and a 5.88 ERA. But in spring of this year he pitched 13 innings, allowed 9 hits, walked 4, struck out 3 and had a 2.77 ERA. Batting average against was .196.

Some pitchers have a couple bad outings but why the sudden departure?

Monday night in Texas Noesi pitched against the Mariners in relief, going 2.1 innings, 1 hit and 2 strikeouts. Since Seattle has Chris Young in the rotation, they have no long reliever, a spot well suited for Noesi. Seattle won the game 7-1, but the M’s must hope their pitching continues to pay big dividends and they can avoid going to the bullpen too early.

On the no mystery side, Roenis Elias (pronounced el-e-us) won his first game in the majors in beating Texas. In 6.2 innings, 104 pitches-70 for strikes; he struck out 5, walked 2 and gave up 1 run. He is now 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA. Yes he made the jump from AA to the majors primarily because of injuries to Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma. So far he shows he belongs. He is not being rushed. He is 25, will be 26 August 1, so he is not some 22 year old. And keep in mind he came to the United States as a refugee from his native Cuba in a boat with 26 people. The trip was 30 hours and 1,600 miles, landing in Mexico.

The Mariners signed him 2011. All he has wanted is to play in the major leagues, so anybody who can leave their country, travel 30 hours in a boat, and work his way to the big leagues, has what it takes to stay. Even if for some reason he gets sent down when Paxton, Walker, and Iwakuma return, Elias will be a phone call away.

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Why May 8th is important to Seattle Mariners

May the 8th is the date Seattle opens a weekend home stand with Kansas City. It is important because Seattle will have played their 34th game in Oakland the previous day. In those 34 games, 23 will be played on the road and only 11 at home.

Seattle must play well away from home in order to get off to a good start. The Mariners first home stand saw them split two with the Angels and lose two of three to the A’s. A 2-3 home stand won’t help the Mariners if they falter in road games. They must win  or at the least play .500 in foreign ports of call.

They open a four game series in Texas tonight, then three in Miami. After coming home for Houston and Texas, the Mariners go to New York for the Yankees, then to Houston and Oakland before the May 8th game.

What makes the trip difficult is that James Paxton is on the DL, Erasmo Ramirez has had two straight bad starts, Roenis Elias is still an unknown factor, and Chris Young, who pitched six shutout innings against Oakland Sunday in his first start, is attempting a comeback after missing last season. That is a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘hopes.’

Another big question during this period is whether Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker can return to the rotation. And if they are ready, how well can they pitch. The Mariners brought up Blake Beavan, who pitched well in Tacoma, to start Tuesday in Texas.  But he had a poor spring camp and poor 2013 season, yet another ‘hope.’

It is possible the bullpen will be tested with so many questions in the rotation, so there may be a shuttle of bullpen pitchers between Tacoma and Seattle to keep the bullpen fresh.

This is why May 8th is important. They must stay close to .500 by sailing rough waters, because if they don’t, as May ends and June begins, the empty seats at Safeco may be plentiful.

Two things baseball players do that are dumb

Baseball coaches and mangers tell players not to slide head first into first base. There are two reasons, one is the risk to injury. In a game against the Seattle Mariners, Josh Hamilton dove head first into first base and tore a ligament in his thumb and will be out six to eight weeks. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “It’s just competitive nature, and Josh plays hard.” Mike is protecting his player who did a dumb thing. I wonder what he says privately.

In the same game, Michael Saunders of the Mariners also dove headlong into first. The right side of his face hit the ground hard and he has a nice big raspberry below his right eye. He looks like he took a punch from Mike Tyson.

Not only does the play risk injury, it slows him down. Race horses do not dive across the finish line, they run through it.  Okay, maybe I am a bit silly, but consider sprinters. They do not dive across the finish line, they like horses, run through the line.

But players will continue to dive at first base like it is a $30 million contract. It is part of todays players culture to be stubborn as a grouchy mule in the wee morning hours. You can’t fine players, they make too much money. Someone suggested that a player who dives headlong into first base should be ejected from the game. The union would never go for it, unless they are convinced it is for the players safety. That would take time as they have always been slow to react, otherwise why did they take so long to realize taking drugs and PEDS is not a good thing for their members.

Another thing players do that is dumb, is on sunny days where the sky is blue, not a cloud in the sky, you see outfielders wearing sun glasses on top of their cap. It is stylish after all; a good way for cute girls to notice you. But it does help you see high fly balls that tend to drop in front of  you, or behind you, or bop you on top of the cap causing the glasses to fall or break.

Horses don’t wear sunglasses for that is not their style, and I have never seen a sprinter wear them either, but someone may have done it. An if he did I am sure he wore them properly.

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Baseball fever 1911 style

When I tell you I met a Cleveland Indian pitcher whose rookie season was 1911 it either sounds like I am very old or I am a time traveler. Neither is the case, at least the VERY old part. My dad knew Vean Gregg who had a diner in my home town. I met Vean when I was a kid back in the 1950′s. I also had an uncle who grew up with Grover Cleveland Alexander. So between meeting Vean Gregg, whom Ty Cobb said was the toughest pitcher he faced, and hearing about Alexander from my uncle, I caught baseball fever at a young age.

The fever for 1911 reignited with me when I was replaying the Strat-0-matic computer version of the 1911 baseball season and I came across a player I had forgotten, Charlie Faust. He peaked my curiosity as he does for most fans of historical baseball. Charlie walked onto the field in St. Louis one hot summer day and told Giants manager John McGraw a fortune teller had told him he was going to pitch the Giants to the pennant. Jumping ahead in the story within weeks of showing up in New York, much to McGraw’s surprise Charlie was a star on vaudeville and wearing a New York Giant uniform, sitting in the Giants dugout.

Though many players of the era wrote about him, Charlie remains a mystery.  The question historians have tried to answer is was whether he a country rube, or  mentally challenged, or perhaps slightly mad.  His story fascinated me and I found a book by Gabriel Schechter who did the best research on Faust anyone has done.

After reading his book and biographies of players from that era I decided to tell his story in fiction, using many incidents from my research. I used a fictional rookie to narrate the story of that summer in 1911 when Charlie Faust took New York by storm.

So if you have baseball fiction, would enjoy a time traveling journey to 1911 to meet Charlie, Bat Masterson, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Damon Runyon, and George M. Cohen, then I am providing a link to my e-book, Loonies in the Dugout available on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it.

Read an excerpt on my website.

Don’t tell Seattle Mariners the season has started

The Mariners were hitting the ball everywhere in spring training and in the season opening series in Anaheim, the Mariners swept the Angels by hitting the ball everywhere, just like spring training. In fact they pounded the Angels outscoring them 26-8 with 18 runs coming with two outs, hitting .429 with runners in scoring position.  They outhit the Angels 34-17.

There were many questions that needed answers: Would Justin Smoak finally do something this year? He was 6 for 13, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 7 rbis. Would Dustin Ackley get untracked? He was 4 for 11, a double and triple with 4 rbis. Can Corey Hart come back from his year off? He is 3 for 9 with a home run. Would rookies Abraham Almonte and Stefen Romero hit major league pitching? Romero went hitless in first game then got two hits Wednesday night, one an rbi double. Almonte is 3-13 with 2 doubles and 2 rbis. Zunino the young catcher is hitting .333 with a triple and homer. Brad Miller had a 2 homer game and is hitting .333 And that Cano guy is hitting .455.

Are the questions answered?

No, but give them credit for doing what they did in the spring. For once the Mariners are off to a good start at 3-0.

And Pitching? Erasmo Ramirez following King Felix in the rotation pitched 7 innings, 6 k’s, no walks, and 2 runs. Wednesday, lefty James Paxton, who one pretentious reporter covering the Mariners claims should be a reliever, likening Paxton to Eric Bedard, was even better, pitching 7, allowing 2 hits, walking 2, and striking out 9. Paxton is 5-0 as a starter with a 1.16 ERA. In 31 innings, 30 k’s and 17 hits. Bullpen? I say BS. Paxton watched tape of fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw and based on what he saw, changed his delivery and you can see the results.

We have yet to see the young Cuban Roenis Elias or Chris Young making his comeback. But so far, so good.

Yes there will be rough waters during the 2014 cruise, every team has them. Time will answer all questions, but for now enjoy the smooth sailing.

Why spring training is not about competion for roster spots

The Mariners need a right handed bat and outfielder Cole Gillespie, 29, hit .391 in 23 at bats, driving in seven runs. He has major league experience having played with the D-backs, Cubs, and Giants. But despite his performance and despite providing a need he was sent to the Mariners triple AAA affiliate Tacoma. If he were a Seahawk he might make the team because the Seahawks about competing and winning the job.

Baseball is different. Gillespie was a non-roster invitee. If he made the team, somebody must be released from the 40 man roster. Of course they took into account his major league average of .225 in 169 at bats with 3 homers. As we all know spring training is an illusion. He may have gotten many hits off triple A pitchers. His .225 average is a more accurate measurement of what Seattle would get.

The Mariners plan to carry five outfielders. Dustin Ackley seems to have won the left field job; Abraham Almonte has been playing a lot of centerfield; and Michael Saunders and Corey Hart make four. That leaves the last spot between Logan Morrison, who can also play first and DH; left handed bat Endy Chavez, 36; and rookie Stefan Romero, another right handed bat. Romero has 9 hits, but his 2 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 homers indicate he has extra base power. Despite being a left handed bat Morrison has versatility to stay and Romero is on the 40 man roster, as is Morrison. That leaves Chavez as odd man out, at least by logic. As the Mariners have some good young players on the 40 man roster, they are unlikely to part with any to make room for a 36 year old veteran. 

So baseball, as we see with the Mariners, is not about competition. It is more a numbers game, getting the right balance of left and right bats, left and right pitching, preserving the 40 man roster as much as possible. Of course if the Mariners keep Chavez and send down Romero, there will be much head scratching. But with the Mariners, who knows.

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Unknown lefty from AA may crack Mariner rotation

Lucky for Roenis Elias that he is a left handed pitcher because the Mariners need one in the rotation. Lucky for the Mariners that the 25-year old Cuban defector is having a great camp.

His 6-11 record at Double A Jackson in 2013 is deceptive. His ERA was 3.18 with 121 strikeouts in 130 innings. Wins and losses have a lot to do with run support and luck.

In his first 7 1/3 innings this spring, all in relief, his ERA was 1.23. He started today against the Angels, pitched 5 innings, 2 hits, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, and 1 run. In all likelihood he will get more spring starts. If he continues, he will force the Mariners  to give him a slot. One thing he needs to do is cut down on walks. In 12.1 innings he has 6 six walks and 4 strikeouts after Sundays start.

James Paxton, another lefty is doing well enough to be in the rotation. A 2.08 ERA and one walk in thirteen innings. The other lefty candidate is invitee Randy Wolf with 6 runs allowed in 9 innings. If the Mariners want two lefties in the rotation then the final spot will go to Elias or Wolf. Neither is on the 40 man roster, so somebody will get bumped.  If it is truly about completion then Elias has the edge.

Another player who could crack the 25 man roster is Abraham Almonte. Though hitting .179, he homered Saturday and doubled Sunday. The Mariners like him because he has speed and plays a solid centerfield. He is not a power hitter, but Seattle needs his speed on a slow-footed team. If he doesn’t start he can pinch run and come in for defense in late innings. Corey Hart was slated for right field, but has only 3 hits in 28 at bats, so Almonte may play center with Michael Saunders in right.

The spring roster is at 40, with 15 cuts yet to come.  At this point anyone could make the team. So watch what Elias and Almonte do the rest of the way.

Guess who wins Mariner first base job. Humbug

Manager Lloyd McClendon has said Justin Smoak is the Mariners first baseman. Does that mean joy in Mudville?

In Smoak’s first nine games he is 7-21 (.333) with 3 doubles, a homer, and 4 rbi’s. I am sure part of the reason is that he is a switch hitter and they need hitters from the right side when facing lefties. McCelndon would like to see Smoak have 40-45 doubles and 20-25 homers. The home run numbers are withing reach as he had a career high 20 last season, but he has never came close to 40 doubles, his high being 24 in 2011. McClendon is overly optimistic about a career .227 hitter and has fallen prey to everyone who watches Smoak in spring or goes on a hot streak in between his droughts.

In case Mariner fans have forgotten last spring Smoak batted .407 with 5 homers and 15 rbis. Everyone expected a great year where he would live up his advanced billing. But he hit .238 and despite the 20 homers had only 50 rbis. I hope for the best, but I have seen this every year and by now, as the saying goes, you are what you are. And Smoak is what he is and not what people think he is.

Spring Training is a chimera, the numbers meaningless. Consider Jesus Montero whose awesome spring of 2013 saw a .400 average with 2 homers and 11 rbis. He hit so poorly and was so bad as catcher he was sent to Tacoma to learn how to play first base, then was suspended for PEDS. He hit .208, 3 homers, 9 rbis with Seattle And it has been reported he came to training camp 40 pounds overweight.

Another example is Mike Morse who hit .357 with 9 homers and 15 rbis. Everyone envisioned 30-35 home runs, but he played himself out of Seattle, ending up in Baltimore and now is in San Francisco’s camp. Morse hit .226 with 13 home runs and 27 rbis with Seattle.

One more.  Jason Bay .321, 2 home runs, 6 rbis and during regular season .204, 11 home runs, 20 rbis and was released.

Of those four who had great camps, three did not finish the season with Seattle. I call it Smoak ball-hits in spring, not in summer-because by summer the Smoak has cleared.

My e-book has no Smoak nor smoke.

High five to Glenn Burke, the first openly gay baseball player.

Glenn Burke is not remembered, yet he was the originator of the high five when he played for the Dodgers and he was the first openly gay baseball player in 1978. Despite reports to the contrary he was the first openly gay player in the four major sports. History has a short memory  and frequently is in need of setting the record straight. Watch Keith Olbermann’s brilliant report on Glenn Burke.

Where will Mariner Nick Franklin end up

Despite Nick Franklin’s home run blast the other day, and despite the Mariners saying he is in open competition with Brad Miller for the shortstop position, Franklin has been the object of trade rumors. And in case you forgot, he was part of a package deal last spring for Justin Upton of Arizona, who had the option of refusing a trade to Seattle and he did just that. So Franklin stayed a Mariner as did Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor if you believe the proposal. Sometimes the best trades you make are the ones you don’t make.

Reportedly the New York Mets want him for shortstop and the Tampa Bay Rays want him for second base. The Mariners are looking for young pitching help. When trade rumors are heated it means one of two things. The talks are serious, there are ongoing discussions and scouting of potential players the Mariners could receive, and somebody leaked it to the media. This is the ‘where there is smoke there is fire scenario’. On the other hand, it could be some beat writer needing something to write about and trade proposals are always fun. He may be reporting on front office gossip, stitching together a baseball story out of horsehide and red stitching. This is the ‘where there is fire there is ashes’ scenario. It means where there is smoke there are ashes. In other words a flamed out, dead story.

A trade is likely since Cano is at second and  Willie Bloomquist returns to Seattle as a utility player, covering any and all positions. Shortstop will be either Miller or Franklin, and the M’s, despite any public comments, seem to prefer Miller. Though the Mariners are in need of starting pitchers, neither the Mets, Rays, or anyone else, is unlikely to provide much for Franklin.

I can guess like anyone else, and my guess is that if no trade is made by March 16th, a trade is unlikely. I can see an April with both Miller and Franklin on the Mariners, or  if one of the two should have a poor spring, be in Tacoma. But at some point, unless Franklin is sent to Tacoma to learn to play the outfield, either Miller or Franklin will be traded. The Mariners could wait and see if some team’s need becomes acute and the M’s can get more in return. Trades are as much about negotiating, pondering chess moves, playing mind games, and getting the other guy to blink first, than it is about trading players like they are baseball cards. 


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