erik lundegaard

Friday May 03, 2024

Chris Sale Returns and a Mitch Haniger Question

Pinch-hitting for Superman

The last time I saw Chris Sale pitch in person was in July 2017. He was tall and lean and calm, and he dealt with the Mariners at Safeco Field rather handily: 3 hits over 7 innings, one walk, 11 Ks. It was his 13th victory that season—his first season with the Red Sox after seven with the White Sox—and the 87th of his super-promising young career.

Wednesday afternoon I saw him again, a 35-year-old in a Braves uniform, and his interim, like a lot of ours, hasn't exactly been stellar. I guess 37-27 is nothing to sneeze at, but it's over 6+ seasons, which rounds out to about 6-4 per, and that's including a pretty good romp in 2018 when he went 12-4. Injuries, of course, a way-too-common contemporary baseball storyline, are the reason. But is he back? Wednesday he handled the Mariners well enough, allowing 1 run over 5 innings, with zero walks and 9 strikeouts, as the Braves avoided a sweep with a 5-2 victory. He's now 4-1 on the season with a 3.44 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. More power to him. I miss the days when the best pitchers in baseball stuck around for more than a few years. 

The Mariners, for their part, threw out 24-year-old Emerson Hancock for the ninth start of his career, but a lot of that five-spot wasn't his fault. Yes, he kept walking guys. In fact, in the 1st, the Braves didn't even put the ball in play: K, BB, BB, K, K. I yelled: TRUST THE GUYS BEHIND YOU! Bad advice, it turned out. The game got away from us in the 4th, when, with one out, shortstop Orlando Arcia lofted a high popup into shallow right, and three guys converged. It was RF Mitch Haniger's, but for some reason he didn't seem to be tracking it well, and the ball plopped out of his glove for a two-base error. It was as close to a Charlie Brown moment as you'll see at the professional level. If he'd caught it, Hancock would've had a 1-2-3 inning. Instead, with two outs, Ronald Acuna Jr. singled to left and Arcia scored from second. Then Ozzie Albies singled. Then Austin Riley tripled over Haniger's head—a tougher play, but another where he got his glove on the ball—and that was it for Emerson.

Hancock wasn't stellar but a lot of the loss belongs to Haniger. Besides the Charlie Brown play, he went 0-5 with three strikeouts, and now his season line is down to .217/.278/.368. Mid-April, he was .300/.382/.500. Since April 17, he's got four hits in 41 at-bats. Ouch. Is he injured? Either way, should he be batting second, Scott Servais?

I went to the game with my friend Tim, never a Servais fan, who noticed that the Braves kept tossing left-handers at us: Sale, Dylan Lee, A.J. Minter. And then in the 8th, they tapped rightie Joe Jimenez to face our 6-8 guys, none of whom are hitting above .200, and who bat rightie, rightie, and switch. Tim assumed it was a good time for a lefty pinch-hitter like Josh Rojas, who's been knocking the cover off the ball. Which is exactly what happened. For the switch-hitter. 

“Does that make any sense?” Tim asked the air.

“Maybe he's weaker from the left side?” I offered.

And he is: .211. But the others aren't exactly great shakes against righties, either: .218, .197. Plus the switch-hitter was EL.com favorite Sam Haggerty, he of the “Godfather” walkup music, who made a nice Superman catch earlier in the game. Now that I think about it, so did the No. 6 guy, Dylan Moore, our shortstop. The Braves did blister the ball. I guess we were lucky it was only 5-2. 

Posted at 06:00 PM on Friday May 03, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners  
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