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Wherever I Wind Up
Author: R.A. Dickey
Tag Archives: Danny Hultzen
[caption id="attachment_1072" align="alignleft" width="640"] Jamie Moyer & Danny Hultzen at Cheney Stadium[/caption]
While a heat wave rolled through much of the country, a perfect storm was forming on the west coast Thursday night. The Seattle Mariners past, present and future was on full display, embodied in three starting pitchers – Felix Hernandez, Jamie Moyer and Danny Hultzen.
The present: King Felix delights his “supreme” court.
Felix Hernandez submitted yet another classic performance in shutting down the resurgent Boston Red Sox 1-0 at Safeco Field Thursday night. King Felix used 128 pitches over 9 innings to record a career-high 13 strikeouts. After starting the season slowly and seeing his pitch velocity topping out between 91 and 93 mph, Hernandez has been gaining velocity every outing and is again throwing upper 90’s heat.
But even as Felix was leading the way for the Mariners (that’s not news), an equally intriguing game was being played far away from the bright lights of Safeco Field. Just 50 kms south, a minor league matchup pitted the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners affiliate) against the Las Vegas 51s (Jays affiliate) and showcased two pitchers at opposite ends of their professional careers.
The past: Jamie Moyer won’t stop believing.
Jamie Moyer, the former Mariners ace, signed a minor league contract with the Las Vegas 51s this week. The agreement suggests that the Jays will decide whether to promote Moyer (or not) after two triple-A starts.
At 49, Moyer is by far the oldest member of the 51s. He is being considered because the Jays starting rotation has been decimated by a combination of injury and mediocre performance. After being released by the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles earlier this season, Moyer still aims to compete at the sports the highest level. His quest to return to the majors brought Moyer back to a market he once owned.
During his time in Seattle, Moyer led the team both on and off the field. In the 2001 season, Moyer was a 20-win anchor for a pitching staff that won a record 116 games. As a leader in the community, the Moyer Foundation has remained active in the region long after the pitcher ended his Mariners tenure.
Thursday was, in a way, a return home for the soft-tossing lefty, who is clearly still loved in the Pacific Northwest. The last time Moyer made a start in Tacoma was during a 1997 rehab assignment with the Rainiers. On Thursday, Moyer received roaring applause from the sellout crowd as he walked in from the bullpen before the game. The pitcher appropriately tipped his cap to the crowd acknowledging the fans appreciation.
Once the game started, Moyer displayed his varied arsenal of slow, slower and slowest pitches. He topped out at 84 mph, but sat comfortably between 70 and 80 mph for much of the game. After running into trouble in the first two innings, Moyer settled down and blanked the Rainiers over the next three. He exited after throwing 82 pitches, 51 of them for strikes and handed off a 7-3 lead.
It was by no means a dominating performance and the end is clearly nearing for Moyer. The only question is whether the former Mariner can throw father time a change-up to earn one more major league ride.
The future: Danny Hultzen rises.
Moyer’s opponent on Thursday was young Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft who was making his first home start for the Rainiers.
After blazing through the AA ranks earlier this season, Hultzen has been pegged as a future number two starter for the Mariners behind Hernandez. The pitcher may have found the game particularly unnerving facing such an accomplished opponent. By the time Hultzen was born in the fall of 1989, Moyer had already made 94 starts in the major leagues. For further context, it should be noted that Thursday was not the first time the two pitchers had crossed paths.
When Hultzen led his University of Virginia team to the 2011 college world series, none other than one Jamie Moyer was serving as an analyst for ESPN. Moyer’s analysis was not entirely flattering and focused on the prospects need to develop his complementary pitches and his inability to hold runners on base. Fair or not, the comments were surely not forgotten before the game last night.
Against the 51s, Hultzen was consistently hitting 92-93 mph, but struggled mightily with his control, walking in a run during the second inning. The command problems are particularly surprising for the lefty and in sharp contrast to the tight control he displayed in college, Arizona fall league and AA.
Hultzen left after four innings, 90 pitches and with a 3-1 lead. His stuff was impressive, but he may require more time to harness it at the next level. Still, Hultzen looks like a star in waiting and is certainly a key to the Mariners future.
Three pitchers thinking about tomorrow.
Like ships in the night, the three pitchers passed one another Thursday as they each pursue their major league dreams. Each has built an impressive list of past accomplishments, each has designs on future professional glory and each lives in the present just trying to get the next out.
Notes: Shortstop Nick Franklin played second base and third baseman Alex Liddi played first. A possibly interesting development considering the continued struggles of Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak with the big club.[caption id="attachment_1088" align="alignleft" width="700"] Nick Franklin[/caption]
This is my guest blog about the Mariners’ early season and can also be found over at Sportsnet.ca. Felix Hernandez leads a new crop of youngsters including Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero.
Summer is coming. As the Seattle Mariners open their 35th MLB season, hopes are rising in the Emerald City. For the first time in a decade, the mantle of team leader passes from Ichiro Suzuki to 26 year old Felix Hernandez and his King’s Court. Emerging from seasons of 101 and 95 losses, the Mariners have fielded a historically anemic offenses over the past two seasons. In a division with heavyweights like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, the Mariners might not contend, but their young prospects must show progress in their development. This season’s slogan, “Get after it” doesn’t tell us much about team expectations (or anything really), so what exactly will we see from the 2012 Mariners?
From the hand of the king
Felix Hernandez returns after two dominating seasons during which he received little to no offensive support (unless you count this). This year, Hernandez is the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff and should provide his normal 200+ innings and 220+ strikeouts. While the zip on King Felix’s fastball has been missing early this year, it is in part due to cool weather conditions. Opening night, for instance, was very cold in Seattle and although Felix started well, he lost both velocity and control as the game proceeded. Regardless, Hernandez has demonstrated that he knows how to pitch to contact when required and remains the leader of the team. It’s the supporting cast, however, that GM Jack Zduriencik has been forced to upgrade for the King.
The search for a true dragon.
Last year, the Mariners stopped gambling on declining veterans (see Chone Figgins, Jack Cust, Carlos Silva, Carl Everett, Ken Griffey Jr.), and instead bet heavily on youth and potential. Much of 2011 was spent seeing whether the rookies could survive at the major league level. This year, manager Eric Wedge is looking to see who can become an impact player for the team. Players to watch include:
- Dustin Ackley (2B) – Drafted second overall in the 2009 draft. Ackley was considered one of the best hitting prospects in his class. He quickly progressed to the big league club and has settled in as the second batter in the Mariners lineup. A first baseman/outfielder in college, Ackley moved to second base with the Mariners.
- Jesus Montero (C/DH) – The Mariners gave up pitching phenom Michael Pineda for the heavy hitting Montero. The power was evident early this season as Montero hit a line drive home run to the deepest part of Safeco Field against the A’s. The question is whether Montero’s slow feet will prevent him from being an everyday catcher. He will spend the season as DH learning to hit at the major league level while backing up catcher Miguel Olivo.
- Justin Smoak (1B) – In the first two months of 2011, Smoak was showing signs of being a legitimate power source in the middle of the Mariners lineup. Injuries to his hands combined with the death of his father derailed his season and it wasn’t until September that he regained his form. Expected to be the cleanup hitter this year, Smoak appears much more effective when he employs his batting eye to force better pitches and draw walks. He sometimes gets into trouble when he adopts an overaggressive mindset and tries to hit home runs.
- Kyle Seager (3B) – Seager roared his way through minor league ball and ended up on an undermanned Mariners team in 2011. This year, Seager has shown increased power while providing strong infield defense. Soon the Mariners will have to make a decision about what to do with 3B incumbent Chone Figgins to make space for the rising Seager.
- Micheal Saunders (OF) – The Victoria, BC native boasts a tantalizing combination of speed and power. This year, the Mariners need to see once and for all whether Saunders can make contact at a high enough rate to be a regular contributor.
The three kings
While the Mariners evaluate their hitting prospects at the major league level, the real future of the team rests on the development of three minor league pitchers: 2011 second overall pick Danny Hultzen (22), flamethrower Taijuan Walker (19) and former Jays first round pick James Paxton (23). The three prospects are now pitching at AA Jackson TN, with intentions of developing them as a unit. Paxton appears to be the most advanced at this point, Hultzen, a lefty, combines good command with a low 90’s fastball and the raw Walker features a fastball that touches 98. When these three arrive in Seattle, they will join King Felix and gives the Mariners a chance to compete with the likes of the Rangers and Angels. The plan echos the Jays efforts a decade ago when they tried to develop a young core of pitchers in Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay and Kelvim Escobar. A lot can go wrong as these prospects develop, but it represents a gamble that the Mariners and their fans are willing to take. The alternative of continuing to recycle the Jeff Weaver’s, Carlos Silva’s and Erik Bedard’s of the world brought the Mariners nothing but 100-loss seasons.
The Mariners young prospects will battle throughout the summer to prove their worth. Wedge has been clear that the clock has started and that tangible progress is expected from the youngsters this season. The gap between the Mariners and the Rangers/Angels must be closed and the charge must be led by the newcomers. If these young Mariners prove that they are up to the task, their divisional rivals will soon know that winter is coming.
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