Now Leaving The Twilight Zone

The 2010 Mariners are just weird.

Last night, with ace Felix Hernandez on the mound, they couldn’t muster up anything against a mediocre pitcher.  Tonight, with Luke French on the mound, arguably a mediocre pitcher himself, and facing off against one of the few pitchers in the league better than Felix in Kansas City ace Zach Greinke, they had something of an offensive explosion, posting seven runs and holding the Royals to one on the night.

After the Royals manufactured their lone run in the third on a couple of odd plays, Ryan Langerhans got a hold of a belt-high fastball and lofted it to center field.  At first, it looked to be an easy catch for center fielder Gregor Blanco, but then the ball just kept carrying and carrying until it sailed over the center-field fence for a solo home run.  Jack Wilson would smack a triple two pitches later, and be knocked in by a single by Chone Figgins after a 12-pitch at bat against the normally tough to beat Greinke.  That second run would prove to be all the Mariners would need against the hapless Royals’ offense.

That doesn’t mean that’s all our offense did, however.

Getting right back to work in the fourth inning, Lopez singled to left, would move to third after an Adam Moore hit-by-pitch and Langerhans single, and scored on a sac fly by Jack Wilson.  Ichrio would add to the virtual offensive feast by the M’s tonight by lacing a single to center that dropped in right in front of Blanco that plated Moore.  In the sixth, Langerhans continued his hot hitting on the night by driving the ball into the left field corner.  Left fielder Alex Gordon, who’s normally a third baseman, had all kinds of trouble getting a handle on it, letting Langerhans get to second for a double.  He and Moore, who had reached on a fielder’s choice right before his double, would score on a two-out single by Chone Figgins after Ichiro was walked to load the bases. In the eighth, Jack Wilson drew one of his all-too-rare walks, moving to second on an Ichiro walk, to third on a flyout by Figgins, and scored on a well-hit single by Casey Kotchman.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a nice night of manufactured offense by the Mariners, but I will most certainly take it wherever I can get it.

The stars of tonight certainly had to be Luke French and Ryan Langerhans.  The rarely-used Langerhans wound up a triple shy of the cycle, and gave himself a fair shot at reaching it in the eighth inning, but a flyball to right-center couldn’t get away from Blanco to drop in.  Still, the three hits he did get were all tough pitches from a very, very tough pitcher in Greinke.  The homer came off Greinke’s sinker, and while it was a bit higher than he usually lets the sinker get, that’s always a hard pitch to get up and out.  The single was off a changeup low in the zone, a pitch that Greinke has used to get lefties out his whole career because the late break it has is so hard to read.  The double was off a low slider that Langerhans sat back on and drove the other way, which is impressive for him to do on a difficult pitch to handle like that.  Overall, it was one heck of a night for Langerhans.

French has had a fairly rough go of things with the Mariners ever since he was traded here as part of a package for Jarrod Washburn last summer.  While his numbers have been fairly good when he’s been down with AAA Tacoma, the results just haven’t been there when he’s been up with Seattle.  Tonight, however, was something of a reprieve from that.  He got good run support, worked quickly, commanded the strike zone well, and seemed to keep the Royals’ hitters off balance for the most part.

Looking past the surface, it would appear that French had a very similar night to Texas’ Tommy Hunter last night, and actually slightly worse one overall.  If you noticed that, I say congratulations for seeing it, and agree with you completely.  The end results for French (win, 1 run allowed) were fantastic, but how he got to them (9 hits, just 4 K’s, very few swinging strikes, more air outs than ground outs) wasn’t nearly as much so.

There was, however, one notable difference between the performances of French and Hunter that needs to be mentioned.  When the Mariners were putting their bats on the ball against Hunter last night, they were generally making good contact and hitting the ball hard, but more often than not either the ball was hit right at a defender, or one of the Rangers would make a great play on it to get the out.  With French tonight, the Royals weren’t making good contact at all, often getting the ball off the top of their bats, or getting way out in front or behind his pitches.  In fact, I can only recall two or three well-struck balls by the Royals all night long.

A big part of that was French’s changeup.  His fastball is fairly mediocre as far as velocity and movement goes, and the effectiveness of his slider tends to come and go, but French’s changeup can be a very effective pitch for him.  Sitting from the mid-to-upper 70’s much of the time with a slightly loopy movement to it, when French can locate and command that change he can have nights like tonight, especially with a good defense behind him like he has right now.  The Royals were off-balance all night long because they had a hard time reading the change properly and French was throwing it where-ever he wanted in and around the strike zone.  It’s just one game, but it’s still a slightly encouraging sign for the young man’s future in baseball.

All analysis aside, that was a good night of Mariners’ baseball.  We just had one of the (sadly) fleeting glimpses of what this team was built to do in the offseason, and it’s a marvel to behold when it’s working.  Sadly, things didn’t work as well as hoped in 2010, but we can always hope for bigger and better things next year.  Because in baseball, there’s always “next year”…

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