The Seattle Mariners won two games in the Oakland A's home park last weekend, taking advantage of the A's subpar starting pitching and shoddy glove work. But Bob Melvin's team improved in both areas versus the Kansas City Royals, giving away fewer outs and getting a great outing from rookie Tom Milone, who threw eight shutouts innings in Monday's win.
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez (1-0, 4.40 ERA) was pushed back from last Friday to Saturday in order to avoid pitching in Texas this week, where his career ERA is 4.35, to pitch against the A's who he's 13-4 against in his career.
Seattle lost three-of-four games against the Texas Rangers this week. Friday's matchup with Oakland is the first game of the season at Safeco Field, where the club went 39-45 last in 2011. The A's will counter Hernandez with Bartolo Colon (1-1, 5.84 ERA), who is looking to bounce back from a poor start against the Mariners last Saturday.
The right-hander surrendered 10 hits in just 4.1 innings, allowing seven earned runs. Colon wasn't nearly as sharp as his previous outing against the Mariners in Japan, where he allowed just three hits in eight innings by pounding the strike zone with four-seem and two-seam fastballs.
Colon relied almost exclusively on varying speeds and grips on his fastball to start the year. According to FanGraphs, Colon threw nearly 90 percent fastballs while mixing in sliders and the occasional changeup. He's faced 51 hitters and only walked one with nine strikeouts in his 12.1 innings so far.
Hernandez has reached far deeper into his repertoire this year, throwing all four of his pitches at a rate consistent with the rest of his career. He's still working everything off of his fastball, which he's been throwing slightly softer with an emphasis on location. His curveball remains his out-pitch to right-handers while his changeup has been devastating left-handed hitters. Hernandez is looking to improve off of his previous outing against Colon and the A's where he allowed six earned-runs in 6.1 innings last Saturday, but still managed to get the win.
The former Cy Young Award winner was not happy with his start in Oakland, so expect him to be extremely sharp in his home debut.
Saturday night's contest features a pair of promising young pitchers with contrasting styles. Milone (1-0, 0.00 ERA), the strike-throwing dynamo will get the start for the A's. He'll face Hector Noesi (0-1, 21.00 ERA), a 25-year-old looking to bounce back from a rough debut with his new team.
The Mariners acquired Noesi in the same deal with the New York Yankees that netted Jesus Montero. The hard-throwing right-hander spent most of 2011 in relief for the Yankees, making 28 relief appearances before two late starts against Tampa Bay in September. He didn't last past the third inning in either start, yielding nine hits and five earned runs in 4.2 combined innings.
After a solid showing in spring training for his new club, Noesi struggled in his first start against the Rangers. He gave up home runs to Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland en route to seven total runs in just three innings. Luckily for him, the A's don't have the same firepower as the Rangers and Safeco Field is far more forgiving to pitchers than Rangers Ballpark.
Noesi is a mid-90s thrower who features a slider, changeup and an occasional curveball. Last year, his slider was his primary off-speed pitch while he threw changeups at a 10 percent clip. In his first start, he's shown more confidence in his changeup by doubling its use and cutting down on sliders from around 20 percent to 16 percent. Melvin has been penciling in more left-handed hitters against righties, so look for how those hitters fair against Noesi's changeup.
Milone is coming off an outstanding debut for the A's against the Royals, throwing an efficient 93 pitches (52 strikes). He allowed only three hits in his eight scoreless innings, but had zero strikeouts and three walks. He pitched to contact very well and benefited from improved defense behind him after the team struggled in the first series against the Mariners. In order for Milone to maximize his effectiveness, he'll need good defense behind him that doesn't give away bases.
Although the A's haven't announced Sunday's starter, Graham Godfrey (0-1, 3.00 ERA) should take his turn in the rotation against Blake Beavan (0-1, 1.42 ERA). Godfrey threw pretty well in the rain during his first start of the year against the Royals. He allowed two runs in six innings on just 85 pitches. Godfrey doesn't possess overpowering stuff, but hides the ball well with pitches that can get on hitters deceptively fast. He also mixes his pitches well, throwing all his off-speed pitches at a similar rate.
The right-handed Beavan is coming off a solid rookie year in 2011 when he went 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts. He impressed the Mariners with a good showing in a losing effort to the Rangers, allowing a run on six hits in 6.1 innings.
Beavan's fastball sits about 90-MPH, with a curveball and a changeup. Last season he threw a slider more than 8 percent of the time, but didn't feature it in his first start. He could debut that pitch against the A's, as sliders are usually the last pitch pitchers add in spring training or early in the year.
The 6'7" hurler is looking to redeem himself against Oakland after struggling in three starts in 2011. Going 1-2 against the A's, Beavan had an ERA of 7.56 and a .319 average against.
Oakland's quirky early schedule becomes somewhat normal starting Friday. The team had off-days on Sunday and Thursday, but will play 13 days in a row when they start the series in Seattle. That means that they will likely add Tyson Ross back to the rotation on Tuesday in Anaheim. Monday's series opener would be in line with Brandon McCarthy's regular rest, while Colon wouldn't be on regular rest until Wednesday.
The addition of Ross means the A's face another difficult roster decision. They are heavy on outfielders with five after using only four starting pitchers. That makes Colin Cowgill a candidate for a demotion with the club likely to keep platooning Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes at designated hitter.
Cowgill is one of Melvin's favorites and valuable asset off the bench or in spot-start duty. If the A's elect to go another direction, they could go with a six-man bullpen, making Fautino De Los Santos, Jordan Norberto or Andrew Carignan options for demotion. First basemen Kila Ka'aihue could have a tough time getting at-bats with Daric Barton back in the fold and swinging the bat well, but he's out of options and would have to pass through waivers should the club release him.