Justus Sheffield was fantastic for most of his seven innings against the Diamondbacks tonight
September 12, 2020
Well, yesterday's opener of the three-game set in Phoenix didn't go as expected—the dreadful Diamondbacks managed to get a win with outstanding pitching of their own while Seattle's Yusei Kikuchi had a first inning full of meatballs that got smacked before settling down into a fine several innings after. Tonight it's fellow lefty Justus Sheffield against the cellar-dwelling Snakes and I'm trying another of these notes/observations-as-I-watch posts. Because it's a pandemic and the air outside is a think hellish blanket of particulates and probably carcinogens, so what else am I going to do this evening?
J.P. Crawford is still on bereavement leave (condolences to J.P.) and Shed Long hit the injured list yesterday with a fractured tibia. A stress fracture, meaning it was something that had to have been bugging him for some time before it actually broke; might account for some of his poor performance in the same way that Kyle Seager's lousy couple of years before this one were probably due to a series of injuries and pains. So maybe we haven't seen the real Shed yet. Or maybe we have. Maybe we'll find out next season. Anyway, infielder Donovan Walton and reliever Brady Lail are the ones brought back from the taxi squad, giving the team an even more ridiculously thin bench (today consisting of just Dee Strange-Gordon and Joe Odom). Good job, idiots.
Sheffield facing Arizona ace Zac Gallen, a tough customer. The Snakes are terrible on the whole, but this guy has been pretty dang good this year.
I'm watching the Arizona feed since they're actually at the park and I quickly tire of Dave Sims. (I much prefer the pairing of Aaron Goldsmith and Mike Blowers as announcers on the TV broadcasts—Aaron not only calls a good game, he engages Blowers with pertinent and interesting questions about the big-league experience as relates to what's happening on the field.) Their former manager, Bob Brenly, is one of the broadcasters. Kind of interesting.
Here we go, we'll try breaking it into sections by inning:
- Top 1st, 0-0
Snakes wearing their black jerseys, M's in their standard road grays. RHP Gallen, who took a loss his last time out against SF, has a terrific ERA of just 2.29 and a sub-1.000 WHIP.
Moore leading off in Crawford's absence, and quickly goes down swinging. Ty France (the DH tonight, reminding us that the virus has spread to the National League as the game is further corrupted by Commissioner Rob Manfred) launches a solo homer halfway up the lower bowl in left field to give the M's a quick 1-0 lead! France may turn out to be a tremendous get for Seattle, more than a simple replacement for Austin Nola in the lineup.
Kyle Lewis strikes out on a nice sequence from Gallen, and now Seager fouls one off his knee. Sorry, Kyle, there's no bench today, so you're not allowed to get hurt. He draws a walk in the end, so he didn't have to run, anyway.
Marmolejos then laces one into the left-center field gap that Seager comes all the way around on, so I guess the knee doesn't hurt that much; a better throw and Seager would have been a dead duck at the plate, but I like the aggressiveness—make them make the play. 2-0 M's. Marmolejos is making it hard for me to continue objecting to his being on the active roster; he's getting some big hits, though his defensive skill is lacking and he isn't much of a baserunner.
Gallen walks Evan White and Torréns just blisters one into the corner for a two-run double. Gallen is easily having his worst start of the season and he's only gone two-thirds of an inning. 4-0.
Donovan Walton at the plate, starting at shortstop with Crawford away. The rookie has a really wide-open stance up there, and it's not helping him at the moment with three big swings at three pitches he wasn't close to hitting. Inning done, but eight batters got to the plate against a tough pitcher. I'll take it.
- Bottom 1st, 4-0
Sheffield makes quick work of the leadoff man, Tim Nocastro, struck out on three pitches. Nice start. SS Nick Ahmed connects for a line-drive to right for a base hit, but Sheff gets Christian Walker to bounce into an easy double-play to make up for it and it's a quick inning.
Brenly and his co-announcer are heaping some praise on Sheffield and noting that his ERA has been hurt by the bullpen letting some of his runners score, speculating that Sheff must be "that guy" on the staff. Hate to tell you guys, every starter the M's have is "that guy."
- Top 2nd, 4-0
Phillip Ervin leads off the frame with a single, but I still picture Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley both looking at Ervin and his .133 average and wondering what makes him better than either of them. Why does he rate that roster spot?
Moore pops up. I keep waiting for Moore to revert to his 2019 form, today it looks like he is.
Ty France with another hit, the guy can do no wrong; just pokes one into the hole on the opposite-field side of the infield. Gotta be a good nickname for Ty France that I haven't thought of yet, right?
Gallen doesn't get a call on a close pitch to Lewis and is visibly peeved about it. Hopefully it rattles him for a while. Meanwhile, he's gone full on Lewis and we might see the runners off with the pitch here. Nope, but it is ball four, so they're loaded up for Seager. Cool, cool, cool.
Brenly is now insinuating that Gallen is tipping his pitches. I haven't seen anything indicating that, but could be. He walks in a run by throwing ball four to Seager and it's 5-0. Gallen is not having a good night, whether or not he's tipping pitches.
Marmolejos pops up to deep short/shallow left and Ahmed makes a really nice catch-and-throw to keep France from tagging up at third. Impressive.
Well, he didn't tip that 2-2 curveball to Evan White, Ev swung right over it and the M's leave the bases loaded. Ev's still coming into his own; he's settled down quite a bit since the season started, but still a bit raw.
- Bottom 2nd, 5-0
I'm not keen on the black for the Arizona jerseys, but I do think the "A" on the left chest is the proper design; when you can't fit the team's name across the front, better to use iconography like the "A" (or what the Yankees do with their interlocked "NY") than abbreviate. Especially when the abbreviation lends itself to rude variants.
Escobar leads off with a grounder that Seager makes a poor throw on and White saves an error, easy as you please. So nonchalant. Seager knew it, though, he did one of those pointing-the-finger and patting his own chest to indicate "my bad, good save." An Evan White special right there.
Sheffield gets Peralta to look at strike three and just keeps zipping fastballs and cutters in easy as pie. He's really on his game today. Gets Mathesin to swing under one for another K and we're going to the 3rd. Only 23 pitches for Sheffield so far (Gallen is nearing 60).
- Top 3rd, 5-0
7-8-9 batters go 1-2-3 on easy flyouts. I guess if Gallen was giving away pitch selection he figured it out between innings.
- Bottom 3rd, 5-0
Is it just me, or does anyone else find it kind of disturbing that the PA announcers are still doing the stylish get-the-fans-excited announcement for each home batter when there's nobody there?
Another quick inning for Sheff, though he does walk one. He's faced one over the minimum through three. Outstanding.
- Top 4th, 5-0
Moore grounds out weakly, now 0-for-3. I'd really like to be wrong about him, for Moore to be a legit player and not, well, artificially enhanced. Maybe we'll see eventually.
Ty France, man, another hit. This one off the end of the bat and falls in behind second base. Probably cracked the bat. The guy is just on a roll. Lewis grounds into a DP, though, so it goes for naught.
- Bottom 4th, 5-0
Ahmed greets Sheff with a first-pitch single and Walker, well, walks to give Arizona their first threat of the game.
There's an ad behind home plate for "Arizona's premium roasted green chile," but the logo for it is a stylized rendering of the state symbol of New Mexico and the numbers 505 (area code for New Mexico). Derp.
Escobar with a flare base hit to load the bases. Lewis decoyed the baserunner into thinking he was going to catch it to keep a run from scoring, though. Nice. Peralta follows with a fly to medium-depth left that Marmolejos makes a running catch of and the runners don't advance, though if they had it would have been easy as Marmo's throw in was terrible.
Mathesin with a line-drive hit off a hanging slider that scores two. Better throw from Marmolejos, but late. 5-2 now. Sheff then walks VanMeter on four pitches to load the bases. Sheffield is experiencing what Gallen did in his previous start—cruising through the first few innings, then seeing the wheels come off.
He gets a big strikeout of light-hitting catcher Kelly for the second out, so maybe he's righting the ship. And a grounder to first ends it with only two runs across. OK, could have been a lot worse.
- Top 5th, 5-2
Seager walks again on four pitches, Gallen not close with anything.
Whoa, Marmolejos with a blast way out to right. Two-run homer makes it 7-2. Marmo making a bid to be next year's everyday DH.
White down on strikes again, again swinging over a curveball. I think this may be the biggest problem with skipping Triple-A, you don't get much practice against good breaking stuff.
Walton K's in much the same fashion, looking pretty bad up there.
- Bottom 5th, 7-2
Sheff gets two easy outs then drills Walker on the calf with a fastball. That's gonna leave a mark. No other damage, though, and we go to the 6th.
- Top 6th, 7-2
Ervin leads it off with an oops double off of new pitcher Yoan López, a check-swing bloop over first base. Somewhere Smith and Fraley shake their heads.
Moore strikes out, continuing to look like 2019 Dylan Moore. France blisters one, but it's caught in left field to even things out from the cheapie hit in his last AB. Lewis Ks to end it. Pretty easy inning for López.
- Bottom 6th, 7-2
Sheffield gets Peralta on strikes quickly, looking good as he approaches 80 pitches. Of the 16 outs he's gotten so far, 11 of them were on no more than three pitches. Efficiency!
Mathesin strikes out as well, and so does VanMeter! Slick!
- Top 7th, 7-2
Three quick flyouts. Bleh.
- Bottom 7th, 7-2
Two outs, an infield hit, a wild pitch, and a groundout gives Sheffield seven full innings at under 100 pitches. Nicely done, and he's almost certainly finished for the night. Graveman has been heating up, he'll likely pitch the 8th.
- Top 8th, 7-2
New pitcher for the Snakes, righty Keury Mella, who serves up a base hit to Torréns to lead it off. Walton taps the first pitch to short for an easy double play, though. Ervin strikes out. Somewhere Smith and Fraley shake their heads.
- Bottom 8th, 7-2
Graveman on to pitch, second time out for him as a reliever. He's throwing hard, but Walker smacks a fastball into left-center for a leadoff double. All fastballs so far, and all 96+. Until this one, only 91, grounded to Moore. 1 out, runner to third. Peralta with another grounder to Moore, scores the run to make it 7-3. Easy fly ball ends the frame.
If Graveman develops into a closer, does his nickname become the Grim Reaper? The Undertaker?
- Top 9th, 7-3
New pitcher is Joel Payamps. Never heard of him. Moore singles off of him to start things, though, with France following with a walk. Let's see if the M's can push across some extra insurance here.
Lewis grounds into another double play, though. Ouch, two Ks and two DPs for Lewis tonight. Up to the other Kyle now, but he lifts an easy fly to center. No insurance.
- Bottom 9th, 7-3
Last gasp for the Snakes and they face ex-Diamondback Yoshihisa Hirano. Yoshi sets the first two down no muss no fuss, and then Pavin Smith connects for his first big-league hit before Locastro grounds out to end it.
Nice game all around. Sheffield was fantastic, Graveman and Yoshi did their jobs, Ty France keeps on hitting, and having a minimal bench didn't end up being a factor. Back at it tomorrow with Justin Dunn on the hill. Just a couple of weeks left in the mini-season, hopefully the M's can use this one as a springboard for a nice stretch-run sprint.