Chavez injury takes chunk out of Seattle's great D

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Seattle’s new regime made defense a priority during the offseason,
acquiring elite fly-catchers Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez to team
with Ichiro Suzuki for a three-center fielder outfield and the results have predictably been dramatic.

Last season the Mariners ranked 11th among AL teams in runs allowed,
but so far this year they’ve been by far the best team in the entire
league at preventing runs while slicing their ERA from 4.73 to 3.59.

Improved pitching has obviously played a big role, but a dramatic
change in the quality of the Mariners’ outfield defense has been an
overlooked component. Or at least it was. Chavez suffered a torn ACL in a collision Friday with Yuniesky Betancourt, knocking him out for the remainder of this season and possibly part of 2010.

Chavez is a corner outfielder who was hitting just .273/.328/.343, so
at first glance you might think that his injury would actually help the
Mariners, but his glove in left field was a huge asset. In fact, with
Chavez, Gutierrez, and Suzuki playing 80 percent of the left field,
center field, and right field innings Ultimate Zone Rating ranks the Mariners’ outfield as the best in baseball defensively at 22.2 runs above average.

Jarrod Washburn is one of the most extreme fly-ball pitchers in the league, so it’s no coincidence
that his ERA has improved from 4.67, 4.32, and 4.69 in his first three
years in Seattle to 3.29 this season. Washburn hasn’t become a new man
at the age of 34 and his secondary numbers show him as the same
mediocre pitcher, but having three center fielders chasing down
everything in the gaps made him look a lot better.

Seattle’s outfield defense will still be plenty strong without Chavez,
because Gutierrez is an amazing center fielder and Suzuki will probably
win his ninth straight Gold Glove in right field, but with Wladimir
Balentien now in left field they’ve gone from spectacular to merely
very good amid rumors that Washburn is on the trading block.

Report: Steven Matz has been pitching through pain, may need elbow surgery

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Newsday’s Marc Carig reports that Mets starter Steven Matz has been pitching through pain for most of the season. He may need surgery to fix a nerve issue in his elbow. Matz was sidelined in spring training with an elbow injury and made his regular season debut on June 10.

Matz, 26, has struggled over 13 starts, posting a 6.08 ERA with a 48/19 K/BB ratio in 66 2/3 innings. Many were scrambling for explanations for his pitching woes and now they have it.

According to Carig, the Mets let Matz skip his bullpen sessions to help him pitch through the pain. Given the Mets’ shoddy history of dealing with injuries, that’s not a good look for the club.

Carig noted on Twitter that Jacob deGrom offers some optimism for Matz’s case. deGrom underwent right elbow surgery to repair ulnar nerve damage last September and bounced back to have a great season this year.

Clayton Kershaw’s simulated game went so well he threw an extra inning

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Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw was scheduled to throw three innings in a simulated game on Monday. That simulated game went so well, he threw an extra inning, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Kershaw will make a minor league rehab start next and could be activated towards the end of next week.

Kershaw, 29, has been on the disabled list since July 24 with a lower back strain. That put the pause button on another outstanding season. He’s carrying a 15-2 record with a 2.04 ERA and a 168/24 K/BB ratio in 141 1/3 innings.

The 87-35 Dodgers have run away with the NL West, needing some combination of 20 wins and 20 Rockies losses (19 for the third-place Diamondbacks) to officially clinch the division. While the Dodgers are all but mathematically assured of reaching postseason baseball, the club would still like to get Kershaw as ready as possible over the next month-plus.