Josh Lueke, acquired as part of the Cliff Lee trade last season in what became somewhat of an internal PR nightmare for Seattle, broke camp with the big league club after pitching well in Peoria while showing good command, but he struggled in his eight appearances during his first stint with the club before being demoted April 23rd.
Lueke’s control was certainly an issue, as he walked six hitters in his six and one-third innings, but the real root of the issue was with his velocity. Lueke employs an attacking repertoire of fastball and split-finger, with the fastball consistently putting up 97s on the radar gun last season. But in his time with the Mariners early on, Lueke’s fastball averaged just 92.3 miles-per-hour and was frequently in the 90-92 range.
When his fastball is in the low-90s, hitters are less likely to chase his split-finger, and thus the control issue arises. His stats ring true to that theory as hitters only swung outside the zone vs. Josh on 26% of his 131 pitches, a number that would rank him in the bottom 10% of relievers if he had enough innings to qualify.
Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis was quoted as saying he thought Lueke was possibly, “gripping the ball a little tight” at times, maybe trying a little too hard and feeling the pressure of being a big leaguer. It appears that Lueke has gained back some velocity during his time in Tacoma. He was selected as a Triple-A All-Star and has 11 saves for the Rainiers, but he has also had some troubling outings for the Rainiers, giving up a run in four of his last seven outings before the promotion.
Seager, of course, was in Toronto with the big club while Tacoma was in the middle of a series in Tucson when the move was made. He will rejoin the Rainiers on Friday when they get into Salt Lake City to open a four-game series.
Kyle Seager tallied just three hits and three walks in his 25 plate appearances during his seven-game stint in Seattle, but he was killing the ball in Triple-A before he was brought up, so he returns to Tacoma with a 1.173 OPS is awaiting him.
Rumors abound about this move being about showcasing Chone Figgins for a potential trade, but as Figgins played left field yesterday with Adam Kennedy at third, I would also keep an eye on where Seager plays for the Rainiers — if he’s at second base it’s possible that the team is entertaining offers that could include the former North Carolina standout as one part of a deal.