By Jason Wojciechowski on April 13, 2010 at 10:40 PM
Because of a trip to Yogurtland, American Idol, and Glee, I'm just now getting around to starting to watch the A's-Mariners game from tonight. The immortal FISTER is on the mound for the Mariners, with Brett Anderson on the other side.
Daric Barton did a nice job on his 1st inning single. Part of being as patient as he is at the plate is not being afraid to sometimes hit with two strikes. With his eye, he'll get a lot of favorable, fastball counts, but he'll also get 0-2 and 1-2 counts as well, when the pitcher is able to pump in early strikes in spots in the zone that aren't really hitter's pitches. That's what happened in his first at bat, as Fister made two good pitches, but then left one up and Barton lined it for a single into right center, a good solid hit. The power still hasn't come for Barton, and maybe it never will, but, as I've said, it won't matter if Barton's hitting like he is so far this year.
Brett Anderson's first inning continued to show his absolute filthy stuff, striking out Ichiro! and Franklin Gutierrez on sliders in the dirt. The fact that he can throw that pitch to a lefty or a right and get either of them to swing helplessly is a tremendously positive sign. Chone Figgins, the other batter in the inning, grounded out weakly to second, although Adam Rosales made the play look harder than it was, throwing on the run, seemingly over-aware of Figgins's speed.
Fister continued to hit his spots in the second, striking out Eric Chavez on a perfect fastball down and away. There's no way you can reach that pitch. You just have to look at it and hope the umpire calls it a ball. Unfortunately for Chavez, it was a strike.
The Tweetosphere the other day apparently decided that Eric Chavez looks like a young Ezra Pound with his facial hair, but I still call him Torquemada in my head.
The bottom of the second was not as kind to Brett Anderson, although his defense and the park took care of him. After a bloopy leadoff single, he left a couple of balls up that were hit hard into the outfield, but Ryan Sweeney caught one very near the wall while Rajai Davis caught the other. Casey Kotchman then got lucky on a weak, defensive swing, knocking a ball that trickled down toward third. Kevin Kouzmanoff came in on it and employed his strong arm, but it pulled Barton off the bag at first and Kotchman, who got out of the box well, might have beaten it anyway. Anderson worked his way out of it with another strikeout on a slider in the dirt, another batter trying to check his swing but unable. Filthy, I tell you, filthy.
In the top of the third, Jack Wilson made an absurd play to take away a classic Rajai Davis infield single. With Jose Lopez drawn in on the grass, Davis grounded one past him toward the hole. Wilson ranged over, grabbed it and threw all in one motion, not leaving his feet, not really jumping a la Jeter. The throw was strong and on target, reaching Kotchman at first easily on the fly, retiring Davis by a half step or more. Play of the night so far. A grudging tip o' the cap to Jack Wilson.
The bottom of the fourth also saw Anderson get in some trouble, giving up a single and a double to put runners at second and third with one out. He followed this with consecutive strikeouts, again on low sliders, to get out of the jam. The effectiveness of that pitch when paired with a 95 mph heater is truly special.
The fact that I keep saying this makes me wonder: does it actually rate out as a special pitch in run values? Fangraphs keeps track of this, and indeed it does: In 2009, Anderson's slider was worth 22.2 runs above average, while his fastball was actually eight runs below average (despite that great velocity). There is also a leaderboard for this stuff, and Anderson's slider was the most valuable slider in all of baseball, a scosh ahead of his A's teammate Mike Wuertz, at 21.7 runs. (Note that this is not saying it was the best slider in the game -- if you're doing that by run value, you'd want to use the per-pitch (or per-hundred-pitches) measure that Fangraphs also gives you. Anderson is very good by that measure, but nowhere near the top spot.)
The bottom of the fifth saw Anderson in another jam, this one less of his own making. Chone Figgins tagged a ball into the left-center field alley for a double (that with a less speedy or less army center fielder (say, Coco Crisp, with his limp noodle), might well have been a triple). Anderson would have been fine with that, since it came with two men out, but then Cliff Pennington, trying to rush a play on a groundball by Franklin Gutierrez, knowing Gutierrez's good speed, just missed it, resulting in a corners situation. Once again, though, like Roger Federer acing his way out of a 15-40 hole, Anderson whiffed the next man, this time switching things up and getting Jose Lopez to swing through a 95-mph fastball up and away. Anderson hasn't been sharp to this point in the game, as he's hung a number of pitches, but he's been sharp enough to escape sticky spots, and the sheer quality of his stuff gives him a lot of margin to work with.
I haven't mentioned the A's hitting in a while. That's because FISTER is just dominating them. Weak contact, swings on balls out of the zone, getting blown away by 89-91-mph fastballs ... this is the A's I've known and loved for the last few years. It's the top of the seventh, two outs, as I watch, and FISTER has thrown 84 pitches. He could go complete-game shutout on the A's here. Remember, this isn't King Felix or Cliff Lee. This is FISTER, a guy who went down to the last few days of camp fighting for his rotation spot.
With Brett Anderson barely escaping with his life the last few innings, I think going to Craig Breslow (or some reliever, anyway) is the right move here in the bottom of the seventh. Breslow's presumably in to face the lefty Ichiro and the switch-hitting Figgins, with the righty Gutierrez TBD (Ziegler is warming in the bullpen). But trouble won't be forthcoming if Breslow pitches to Figgins and Gutierrez the way he just did to Ichiro, striking him out on a fastball high and outside. Unfortunately, he didn't pitch like that to Figgins, throwing him a two-strike slider in that Chone hammered into the left-field corner for his second double of the game. Figgins just kills the A's no matter what team he's on, doesn't he? I wish the Rockies had never traded him. And with that, in comes Ziggy.
Incredibly, Kurt Suzuki then made the play of the game, passing the Jack Wilson throw from earlier. Ziegler threw a slider that frisbee'd way into the left-hand batter's box, causing Suzuki to have to lunge out to grab it. Chone Figgins saw his opportunity and took off for third, knowing Suzuki would have a tough time gathering and making a good throw to third, especially since he was moving away from third base to catch the ball. But Suzuki spun, his mask flying off in the process, and threw a bullet to third that Kouzmanoff caught in the perfect location: low and on the bag, so that Figgins slid right into the tag. Kouzmanoff hardly had to move his glove to make the out. Can I remind you again that Suzuki is my favorite A's player?
Figgins, by the way, is still shaking his head incredulously as the top of the eighth starts. It's hard to tell whether his reaction is "what the hell kind of play was that?" or "what the hell kind of call was that?" If it's the latter, I have bad news for him: the call was exactly right. Replays from a perfect angle show this absolutely conclusively: the tag was applied before his foot got to the bag.
Milton Bradley's eighth-inning three-run homer feels like the death blow for this game. Ziegler couldn't command his pitches tonight, throwing stuff all over the place, and he put the Bradley pitch right into Milton's wheelhouse. If the Mariners had scored one run this inning, I'd like the A's chances to come back in the ninth -- not for any objective reason (they're still, at bottom, a mediocre offensive ballclub), but because they've felt so awesome lately. But down at least 3-0? On a night when they can't even hit FISTER for a line drive or two? No.
David Aardsma on to pitch for Seattle in the ninth, and, much as he's a better pitcher than FISTER, I'm happy to see him. I'd rather the A's face him throwing smoke from the bullpen than a 100-pitch fatigued FISTER, yes. That's how bad the A's looked against FISTER tonight. Well, I think that right up until the Ryan Sweeney 6-4-3 double play right after Daric Barton does a nice job working a walk on some close pitches.