Mariners keep a streak, break a streak and a monster day for a hitter
By Shannon Drayer
Split squad, split results. Let’s get the bad over first because there wasn’t much of it.
James Paxton had a tough outing in Phoenix as the Eric Wedge squad fell 7-4 to the A’s. I was not at that game as Felix was pitching in Surprise, but even that far away it was hard to ignore the line of two-thirds of an inning, three runs, three hits, two walks and no strikeouts. Paxton has had command issues at times and it looks like he is having one now. Never a good thing when you can’t get out of an inning.
Making his spring training debut, Felix Hernandez allowed one run and two hits in two innings of work Thursday. (AP)
On the flipside, in the same game Brandon Maurer gave up a run in his three innings pitched but also struck out four. He started the game and Oakland ran out most of its regular lineup so this was a good test for Maurer, who I am told looked great. It is not too tough to say at this point of the game that he is the member of the Big 4 who has impressed most.
Over in Surprise the results were much better, with Felix Hernandez making his first start and the team handing the Royals their first loss of the spring, beating them 12-2.
Felix was pleased with his first outing and teased the media when he saw them in the clubhouse.
“I thought you went to Phoenix,” he joked.
When asked if he was relieved to finally get to pitch in a game he answered again with a joke but then made an important comment about his pitching.
“Yeah, finally,” he said of getting to pitch. “Now I am part of the Seattle Mariners. Just kidding. I think it was a better debut than last year. I feel pretty good.”
It was clearly better than last year with the velocity of his fastball sitting mostly at 90-91 and topping out at 92. This time last year we were seeing 86-89. He didn’t want to hear about that, pointing out that he worked up to his normal velocity as the year went on. My feeling from what I saw and several conversations I had throughout the year is that it never was a health or injury thing. I think the weight he lost coming into camp contributed more to the velocity drop than anything else.
This year is a different story and all looked good in his first time out.
Felix was followed by Hisahsi Iwakuma, who also looks dramatically different this year. He pitched three scoreless innings and did a tremendous job of keeping the ball down.
“I feel a lot stronger this year,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I came prepared. Last year was a little different story for me. This year I know that I am in the starting rotation, I started a lot earlier than last year and that really helped me out a lot.”
Iwakuma said that he was at about 70 percent with where he would like his individual pitches to be.
“My fastball I am able to locate down in the strike zone, which is a great sign,” he said. “My breaking pitches could be sharper and that is what I look forward to working on from here on to the end of spring training.”
While both Hernandez and Iwakuma put up nice efforts today, if a player of the game had to be named it easily would have been Stefen Romero. Last year’s organizational minor league player of the year had a monster day at the plate, driving in seven runs on a grand slam, home run (helping keep the multiple-home-run-streak alive and now at 10 games), a double and a single.
“Luckily I was put in situations where guys in front of me got on base, produced and luckily I got good pitches to hit and drove the ball well today,” Romero said of his big day.
Romero is by no means coming in under the radar with this organization. They like his bat but finding a position has been a bit of a concern. I think he has got a good shot to force the issue at some point this season, which is something that no doubt would make both Jack Zduriencik and Wedge happy.
Last year there was no one at the minor-league levels to push the young position players on the big-league roster. This year there will be with Romero possibly at the top of the list. His versatility will not hurt as he has played second and third in the minors, first and third in college and some outfield as well. Definitely a name to keep your eye on.
The Mariners host the A’s in Peoria on Friday. That game can be heard live on 710 ESPN Seattle.