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May 24, 2013

What You Need to Know

Searching for Jesus

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway
With only five games on the docket, the day’s most salient news may have come from upstairs at Safeco Field, where the Mariners decided to demote Jesus Montero to Triple-A Tacoma. The former number-one prospect in the Yankees farm system, who came over to Seattle as the centerpiece in the trade that sent Michael Pineda to the Bronx, had fallen into an 8-for-44 slump, and that rut coupled with shaky defense was enough to cost Montero his big-league job.

Remember when, after Pineda exhibited diminished velocity and was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, it seemed as though the Mariners might emerge as the clear victors in the trade? Well, a year-plus of below-replacement-level work from Montero may have tilted the scales back toward the Yankees, who on Thursday also received positive news about the recovery of the 24-year-old pitcher they so highly coveted two offseasons ago.

Pineda has been pitching in extended spring training games, and, according to Andy McCullough of the Newark Star-Ledger, a minor-league rehab assignment is on the horizon. If all goes well, that could put Pineda on track to return to the Yankees sometime during the second half of this season. And, considering that reports from earlier this month had Pineda touching the mid-90s with his fastball, it seems entirely plausible that he will contribute more to the Yankees’ cause this year than Montero will give to the Mariners.

The other two players involved in the trade—Hector Noesi, who went from New York to Seattle, and Jose Campos, who headed east with Pineda—have thus far been nonfactors. Noesi served up 21 homers in 106 2/3 innings last year, en route to a 5.82 ERA, and though he has fared better in limited action in 2013, he’s not likely to ever be more than a back-end starter or swingman. Campos, a highly-regarded prospect in the Mariners system at the time of the swap, spent most of the 2012 season on the shelf and is now getting his first full-season taste of full-season ball at age 20.

So, who wins what once was billed as a win-win trade?

The Mariners were winning last year. The Yankees, at least based on Thursday’s news and Campos’ return to the mound, are winning now. As for the eventual, long-term winner—that remains anyone’s guess.

Matchup of the Day
Last year’s breakout darling, Kris Medlen, has scuffled in his bid to deliver a worthy encore to a season in which he compiled 3.2 WARP over 50 appearances, 12 of them dominant starts. Medlen, whose pinpoint command drew comparisons to Greg Maddux, struck out 23.1 percent of the batters he faced last year and walked only 4.4 percent of them. This year, though, the former rate has tumbled to 15.3 percent, and the latter has doubled, shooting up to 8.8 percent.

As a result, the 27-year-old’s ERA has climbed from 1.57 to 3.02, and he’s fortunate that it hasn’t climbed much further, because his FIP stands at 4.55. Medlen, who would have been a strong Cy Young Award contender had he sustained his summertime surge over a full season, has been a replacement-level arm over his first nine outings this spring. His next assignment comes this evening at Citi Field, where he has posted a 1.37 ERA over 19 2/3 career innings, in part because of his success in shutting down David Wright.

The Mets third baseman was among the many players impressed by Medlen’s remarkable run last year, as he went 2-for-9 with five strikeouts in their 2012 encounters. Overall, Wright is 2-for-16 versus Medlen with two walks and seven strikeouts, and since both of the hits were singles, his triple-slash line is a mediocre .125/.222/.125.

So far this year, Wright has essentially been the same hitter (.293/.395/.490) that he was last year (.306/.391/.492). He excels at punishing middle-of-the-zone fastballs, regardless of height, and though he absolutely pummels left-handed pitching (.337 career TAv), he’s no slouch against righties (.294), either.

So, what has Medlen done to keep Wright on his heels? Nothing fancy, really—just the same sequencing and command that worked wonders for him throughout 2012. In this strikeout on April 17, Medlen benefited from an expanded strike zone, but made an excellent fifth-pitch changeup, set up by a spate of sinkers. In this one on August 11, he worked the outside edge with sinkers, before surprising Wright with a curveball right down Broadway.

Medlen’s ability to hit the corners and mix his fastball, curveball, and changeup effectively led to his breakout 2012 campaign and has been critical to his success against Wright. If Medlen’s control is as erratic tonight as it has been so far this season, Wright could be poised to turn the tables (7:10 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • A year and five days after his most recent major-league start, John Danks is ready to rejoin the White Sox rotation, and he’ll do so tonight at U.S. Cellular Field. In between, the 28-year-old Danks underwent shoulder surgery to repair a laundry list of ailments, including a torn capsule and rotator cuff, and an inflamed biceps tendon. Danks tried to return in spring training, but struggled and dealt with inflammation in the shoulder, and while his control stayed shaky (12 walks in 15 2/3 innings) at Triple-A Charlotte, the White Sox are ready to give him a whirl. The lefty will get a cushy welcome back to the bigs from the Marlins offense, which has scored a league-low 125 runs to date, and take on righty Tom Koehler (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • Matt Moore is still unbeaten, and with each victory, the Rays’ southpaw is making history while putting himself in exclusive company. In his seven-inning, one-run effort against the Orioles on May 19, Moore, who turns 24 on June 18, became the youngest lefty since Babe Ruth in 1917 to win his first eight decisions. On Saturday, Moore, who gets the ball in the middle match versus the Yankees at Tropicana Field, will try to become the 42nd pitcher to start a season with a 9-0 ledger since 1916. He held Joe Girardi’s lineup to a run on two hits over eight innings on April 22, walking three and fanning nine. The Rays, who are 9-0 in games started by their eighth-round pick in the 2007 draft, will go to bat versus Yankees rookie Vidal Nuno in their bid to help Moore extend his flawless streak (Saturday, 4:10 p.m. ET).
  • Of course, Moore’s run as the youngest lefty to start 8-0 since Ruth might be short-lived, because Patrick Corbin is hot on his trail. The second-year southpaw, armed with an outstanding slider and improved fastball velocity, is 7-0 with a 1.44 ERA through his first nine outings, and the Diamondbacks are undefeated with Corbin on the mound, just as the Rays are with Moore. Corbin, though, is a month younger than Moore, and if he picks up his eighth win of the season against the Padres this weekend, he’ll come even closer to the Ruthian feat of doing it at age 22. Manager Kirk Gibson will send Corbin to the bump in the series finale at Chase Field, where he’ll duel right-hander Jason Marquis (Sunday, 4:10 p.m. ET).    

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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