The Boston Red Sox will visit Safeco Field on Thursday night for the opener of a weekend series against the Mariners, and if you disregard the home team’s apparent destiny to face mathematical elimination from playoff contention before the first sunny day of the summer, it’s a matchup worthy of some hype.
Felix Hernandez will face Boston left-hander Franklin Morales, a fellow Venezuelan who in two starts has struck out 17 while walking only one. Beyond the possibility of Hernandez and Morales exchanging punch-outs, the Red Sox always seem to bring a buzz associated with serial news-makers.
Besides the Yankees, is there another team whose trading of a .233-hitting corner infielder with 14 RBI (Kevin Youkilis) could be celebrated by the White Sox fan who happens to occupy the White House?
And yet, the Mariners-Red Sox game won’t be the most anticipated baseball contest played in the Puget Sound area on Thursday night. That distinction belongs to the Tacoma Rainiers and Las Vegas 51s, who will meet in Cheney Stadium for a pitching duel, literally, of the ages.
Danny Hultzen, 22, is making his home debut for the Rainiers. The No. 2 overall selection of the 2011 draft so overwhelmed Double-A hitters this spring that his stint in Tacoma is expected to be a brief interlude preceding an ultimate promotion to the big leagues.
Jamie Moyer, 49, is scheduled to start for the 51s, and that’s a sequence of words a sportswriter doesn’t get to type very often. Moyer on Tuesday signed a minor-league contract with Las Vegas’ parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays, with the stipulation that the Jays must decide on whether Moyer is major-league viable after two starts.
In any case, the 27-year age gap between the two left-handers on Thursday borders on incomprehensible. When Hultzen was born, on Nov. 28, 1989, Moyer already had notched 75 decisions in the bigs – and he still was six years away from reinventing himself into the change-up artist who became a fan favorite with the Mariners.
Moyer isn’t entirely unfamiliar with Cheney Stadium. He made one Pacific Coast League start in Tacoma – a 1997 rehab assignment with the Rainiers – that suggested the savvy craftsman was, well, too savvy and crafty for the PCL. He gave up one hit, and struck out six, and was capable of throwing many more pitches than he did before he was relieved after five innings.
Then again, Moyer was just a kid in those days. He was 34.
Hultzen, a University of Virginia grad, impressed Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara with more than a power fastball that’s delivered with exceptional command. McNamara studied Hultzen’s interaction with teammates – how he generally assimilated into a college-campus community – and returned with rave reviews about the star pitcher’s maturity and humility.
Those virtues could serve Hultzen well on Thursday, when he’ll pitch in front one of the few observers who offered negative critiques of his work as Virginia’s ace in the 2011 NCAA baseball tournament.
While recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery that put him on the shelf for all of last season, Moyer hooked up with ESPN as a part-time analyst. He was in the TV booth when Hultzen, a few days after his first-round selection by the Mariners, started a Super Regional game for the Cavaliers against the University of California-Irvine.
Hultzen, by his own account, wasn’t sharp during a start interrupted by an 83-minute lightning delay. He struck out three and walked three, got out of some early jams with double plays, but didn’t make it through the sixth inning. And though Virginia won, 6-0, the veteran soft-tosser in the TV booth volunteered that the hard-throwing hulk on the mound had a lot of learning to do.
Moyer pointed out that Hultzen’s secondary pitches – the change-up and breaking ball – were less than stellar, and that a potentially fatal flaw in his game was holding runners on first base. An adjustment in mechanics, Moyer said, would be required for Hultzen to succeed after college.
Moyer’s candid commentary was not embraced by Virginia fans, who noted on postgame blogs that the pitcher’s son Dillon happened to play for, yep, Cal-Irvine.
Danny Hultzen doesn’t need any extra motivation to show his stuff Thursday night against Las Vegas. His first PCL start, on the road at Colorado Springs, wasn’t just shaky, it was quaky – only 41 of 81 pitches thrown for strikes – the result of a confluence of factors that included the mile-high altitude and jittery nerves.
Altitude won’t be an issue in Tacoma, and those jittery nerves? Those are so, like, last week.
As for Moyer, he’s auditioning for a spot on a Toronto pitching staff that has lost four starters over the past two weeks. The Blue Jays are desperate for reinforcements, and Moyer, as always, is desperate to accommodate.
The 22-year old in the Tacoma uniform represents the Mariners’ future. Can’t root against him.
The 49-year old in the Las Vegas uniform represents the Mariners’ past. Can’t root against him, either.
A quandary like this is too good to be true, and here’s what’s goofy about it: A showdown of the ages at Cheney Stadium is reducing a Red Sox-Mariners game at Safeco Field to the stuff of an afterthought.
The perfect scenario, I dread, for a Felix firstname.lastname@example.org