Yusei Kikuchi vs. Johnny Cueto, 7:10pm
How do you top that? The M’s are 1-0 after one of the strangest, most unlikely comebacks we’ve seen in years. After the top of the 8th inning last night, the M’s trailed 6-1, and had scrounged up just two hits and two walks against Kevin Gausman, who looked dominant at times. For the bottom of the inning, the Giants went to the ‘pen, bringing in ex-Mariners Matt Wisler, and that’s when things fell apart for San Francisco.
Wisler walked the first batter to face him, JP Crawford. Mitch Haniger singled. Ty France hit a two-strike slider off the end of the bat for a dying quail single, and getting the M’s a run to make it 6-2. Wisler didn’t have it, so the Giants brought in Jarlin Garcia. He, too, walked the first batter to face him, loading the bases with no outs. He came back to K Evan White on a full count, but then walked Taylor Trammell to allow a run. Tyler Rogers replaced Garcia, and immediately yielded an opposite field double, and then hit Jake Fraley in the back. The Giants then booted an easy double-play ball off the bat of Jose Marmolejos, giving the M’s a 7-6 lead, before Rogers came back to get Crawford and Haniger.
Sure, sure, Rafael Montero immediately blew the save by giving up a dinger to the first batter he faced, but whatever. The M’s went quietly in the 9th, but in the bottom of the 10th, the M’s started with a runner on second, and new pitcher Jose Alvarez…walked three in a row, and the M’s won 8-7. The Giants bullpen allowed 7 walks, a HBP, and 3 hits in 2 1/3 innings. They had the game won, facing a line-up that their started utterly dominated, and they simply could not throw a strike.
I’d wondered if the whiff-prone bottom of the M’s order would prove problematic, and White’s bases-loaded, no-out strikeout vs. a struggling Garcia looked like a harbinger of an improbable escape by the Giants. But instead, they just kept walking (or plunking) guys with 30% K rates. Jake Fraley has not set the baseball world on fire in two short cups of coffee. You’d think the Giants would love to force Jake Fraley to beat them in late-game situations, and in two massive, high-leverage PAs in the 8th and then 10th, they hit him in the back and walked him with the bases loaded.
The insanity of the win helped distract from the ugliness of the first 7 innings. Marco Gonzales looked bad, frankly, with a sinker averaging 87, 3 home runs allowed, and, uncharacteristically, 3 walks against just 2 strikeouts. He had poor command, and was punished for it. Rafael Montero’s M’s debt could’ve gone better, and while White doubled and scored the M’s first run, he went 1-5 with 2 Ks. Perhaps worse was JP Craawford, who made a run-scoring error in the field, and went 0-3 with a walk and a K.
The M’s bullpen looked…pretty good, aside from Montero’s meatball to Alex Dickerson. Casey Sadler K’d 2, Will Vest wasn’t razor sharp, but made his big league debut and did fine, and Anthony Misiewicz pitched the 10th and didn’t allow the automatic runner to score.
Today, the M’s face veteran crafty righty, Johnny Cueto. Cueto’s become famous in recent years for varying the timing on his pitches to confuse hitters, using a quick pitch at times, and then hanging out with his front leg in the air for what seems like 5 minutes before delivering a pitch. He sits 91-92 these days, and has something of a sinking four-seam fastball (or at least, it’s not a real backspin-heavy four-seam), and his best pitch is a diving, splitter-style change. If you remember from last night’s post, that’s similar to Gausman’s approach, though of course Gausman adds mid-90s velocity to the package. Against righties, Cueto’s been throwing more change-ups than fastballs, almost the way late-period Zack Greinke has adjusted his approach (last night he threw, on consecutive pitches, an 88 MPH fastball and then an 88 MPH change).
Unfortunately, all of the timing tricks in the world can’t fool father time. Cueto’s change made him impervious to platoon splits for most of his career, but even a solid change can’t make up for declining velo and slipping secondaries. Lefties killed him in 2019, and it sunk his season – he was still fairly effective against righties, but teams noticed, and he faced plenty of lefties. Last year, it was more of the same, as he walked a ton of lefties. His splits looked more normal, but that wasn’t a good thing – it just meant he allowed a bunch of HRs to righties, and he posted a second-straight season with an ERA over 5.
Yusei Kikuchi knows a thing or two about two straight sub-par seasons despite pitching in an offense-suppressing home park. He was electric at times last year, as he gained velocity and debuted a wicked cutter at 90 MPH, a pitch that was quite effective against lefties and righties alike. Let’s hope he gets off to a strong start this year and helps solidify the M’s rotation.
1: Haniger, RF
2: France, DH
3: Seager, 3B
4: White, 1B
5: Trammell, CF
6: Moore, 2B
7: Fraley, LF
8: Torrens, C
9: Crawford, SS
Really not sure what to make of batting White 4th again, particularly given Cueto’s a righty. They need to get as many ABs as possible to Dylan Moore, I’d think. Harping on the batting order isn’t really this blog’s primary area of concern, but it looks strange to me.