What can be expected from the Mariners rookie pitchers this week and beyond?
What we know for sure is that one game doesnt mean anything and that reliever Josh Lueke (0.2 innings, four earned runs Sunday) is likely to get better and rookie Tom Wilhelmsen (one inning, no base runners in the same game) is likely to get worse.
As for Michael Pineda, the rookie who starts Tuesday in Texas (veteran lefty Erik Bedard pitches Mondays game) there isnt any evaluating to be done yet. He looked fine in spring training, but until the games count, its hard to say if his 97-mph fastball will convert into success or failure in the early stages of what is supposed to be a promising career.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge went out of his way to talk up Lueke when the numbers would have justified fainter praise. But the seventh inning started with Lueke getting a routine fly ball from Coco Crisp that should have been the first out and instead fell for a sun-aided double.
Two walks followed, and the As never let Lueke off the hook.
Wedge preferred to concentrate on the sixth inning, when Lueke came in with a man on and struck out Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington to keep the Seattle deficit at the time to a manageable 3-1.
“Lueke did a good job of picking (starter Doug Fister) up, Wedge said. “The next inning came (the sunstroke double) and things steamrolled out of hand from there. Thats baseball.
Luekes post-game performance with the media gave evidence that he doesnt duck from failures to achieve desired goals. He shrugged off the fluke double as “one of those baseball things that happens, and instead focused on his walks.
“I let the guy on second base (Crisp) get in my head and I started rushing the ball, Lueke said of the walks that made the inning such a disaster. “I could feel it but couldnt stop it.
Although Wilhelmsen had better results, he had his own issues. Asked what he was thinking as he walked from the bullpen to the Oakland Coliseum mound, Wilhelmsen shook his head and said, “I honestly dont know.
It isnt that he blacked out, exactly, but things got all fuzzy for a pitcher who had never been above Class A before pitching Sunday.
“I was trying to control my breathing, he said, tapping on his chest. “I had to fight to control my heartbeat.
He controlled his pitches, though, and that was something.
Even so, Wedge said he would have preferred to give both of the rookies a softer landing than circumstances allowed.
“Preferably (those two debuts) wouldnt come under those circumstances, Wedge said. “Youd hope it would be in a game that was the flip side of that (i.e., a win), but nevertheless we got them in there.
“Right now its hard to say how big a factor those two can be for us this year. Right now well take it appearance to appearance and they will get the chance to dictate their own paths.
As for Pineda, all he did in his first big league series was dress like a big leaguer, throw a bullpen session and perform his other between-start routine in order to face the Rangers in Arlington Tuesday. Again, there is no soft landing in sight.
His first job will be to face a Texas team that hit 11 homers in three games against a mostly veteran Boston pitching staff as the Rangers swept the Red Sox.
“Im going to be ready, Pineda said. “Im looking forward to it.
With luck he will soak in everything that pitching coach Carl Willis mentions in the pre-game meeting about the Mariners. Since the left-handed Bedard and the right-handed Pineda are completely different styles of pitcher, the Monday meeting and the Tuesday meetings will have more than a few differences.
And that brings us back to what the first big league game means to these guys. Wilhelmsen was asked what he remembered from the meetings covering the As hitters once he took the mound.
“Not a thing, he said.
And Lueke, who was in the Ranger organization until being traded to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal last year, says he “cant wait to get a chance to pitch against his former club.