Nats look to even series vs. Mets; Price tries to build on strong outing in nightcap with Royals
By Andrew Simon
Following disappointing 2015 seasons, the Mariners and Orioles both are fighting for first place in their respective divisions this year. That makes the teams' matchup at Camden Yards today one of the most intriguing on an MLB.TV slate packed with 16 games, thanks to a Royals-Red Sox doubleheader.
The Mariners, who are battling the Rangers atop the American League West, snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 22-16 by winning Tuesday's series opener, 10-0. Former Oriole Nelson Cruz led the Seattle attack by going 3-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs, leaving Baltimore righty Chris Tillman to try to get his club back in the win column today against Mariners righty Taijuan Walker. The Orioles (23-14), tied with the Red Sox for first in the AL East, now have lost their last two games after winning seven straight.
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Here is a look at what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
The M's and O's: SEA@BAL, 7:05 p.m.
Walker will try to rediscover the form he showed in April, when he posted a 1.44 ERA and 25-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four starts. In three May outings -- one of them injury-shortened -- the 23-year-old has allowed 10 runs (seven earned) over 12 2/3 innings. Tillman, a Mariners second-round pick in the 2006 Draft, was traded to Baltimore (along with Adam Jones) before reaching the Majors. The 28-year-old right-hander is now in his eighth season, and so far, it's been his best. Tillman boasts a 2.58 ERA, including 1.64 over his past five outings, and his rate of 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings dwarfs his career rate entering 2016 (6.7).
"I feel good right now," Tillman said after throwing seven scoreless innings against Detroit last Friday. "I think mechanically I'm in a good place and I'm able to execute all my pitches when I need to, not necessarily throwing fastballs in a fastball count, but I'm able to throw some other things that I'm not used to doing. It's fun right now, and I'll try to keep it going."
Stat that matters: Tillman has recorded at least seven strikeouts in four consecutive starts, doubling what was previously the longest streak of his career.
Gio, Bartolo duel: WAS@NYM, 7:10 p.m.
After the Mets' Noah Syndergaard outpitched the Nationals' Max Scherzer to take Tuesday's series opener, 2-0, New York crept within a half-game of Washington for first place in the National League East. Now the Mets will turn to Bartolo Colon as they look to clinch the teams' first series of the year. Colon, who turns 43 next week, is coming off his most difficult start of the year, in which he allowed five runs over five innings at Dodger Stadium, seeing his ERA rise from 2.82 to 3.53. Nats starter Gio Gonzalez (1.93 ERA) will aim for more efficiency than he showed against Miami last Friday, when he struck out seven but threw 106 pitches over five-plus innings, allowing a pair of unearned runs.
Stat that matters: Colon leads all qualified pitchers with a 69.8 percent strike rate, and he has walked only four batters over 43 1/3 innings, including none to right-handers.
Price on tap for nightcap: BOS@KC, 8:15 p.m.
Monday's rainout at Kauffman Stadium delayed the start of the Royals' series against the Red Sox until Tuesday while also setting up today's doubleheader. After Boston knuckleballer Steven Wright matches up with Ian Kennedy at 2:15 p.m., David Price and Edinson Volquez will tangle in Game 2. Volquez has been a force when pitching in Kansas City this season, with a 1.35 ERA and 29-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five starts, including last Friday against Atlanta (seven innings, one run). The Red Sox can hope Price builds on his last outing, when he struck out 12 while holding the Astros to one run over 6 2/3 innings. Coming after back-to-back six-run starts, that lowered the lefty's ERA to 6.00.
"I allowed myself to get into my power position," Price said of some mechanical tweaks he made. "That's something I've worked on the last four days leading up to this start. That was a big key for me, and it helped out a lot."
Stat that matters: Price ranks fifth among qualified pitchers in swinging-strike rate (14.2 percent) but has been burned by the second-highest batting average on balls in play (.379).
Johnny's been good: SF@SD, 10:10 p.m. Johnny Cueto's first season with the Giants has gone smoothly thus far, as the right-hander has pitched seven-plus innings in seven of eight outings while posting a 2.97 ERA. Cueto's best outing came against the club he faces today. On April 26 at AT&T Park, he tossed a seven-hit shutout against the Padres, with one walk and a season-high 11 strikeouts. San Diego's Drew Pomeranz doesn't have Cueto's track record but also has impressed his new club, with a 1.80 ERA and 51 strikeouts over 40 innings. However, the lefty's roughest outing came at San Francisco on April 25, when he lasted only 4 1/3 innings and allowed four runs (three earned) and 10 baserunners.
Stat that matters: The only qualified pitchers to strike out hitters at a higher rate than Pomeranz (31.9 percent) this season, as of Tuesday, were Jose Fernandez and Clayton Kershaw. Yet Pomeranz also has the eighth-highest walk rate (11.9 percent).
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Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.