Carlos Triunfel got his first start in the Majors on Friday night. Although he had already had his first career hit against Toronto earlier this month, I had been somewhat curious as to why he had not been playing more. When it was announced that he would be brought up, I assumed that he would get quite a bit of time at shortstop, and that Kawasaki would never play again. Instead, Kawasaki actually started over Triunfel initially when the Mariners didn’t want to play Ryan. I found this perplexing, but the day finally came for Triunfel’s name to be written in the lineup on Friday.
The first ball hit to him at shortstop was a play that Brendan Ryan would have easily made and a play I suspect most MLB shortstops would make. The ball was hit a little to his right and he got to it enough to get his glove on it, but it simply bounced off and the runner was easily safe as Triunfel had to eat it.
However, he got another shot in the 1st, as he was the back half of a double play. After Ackley played a slow grounder and flipped it to him, Triunfel did a good job of getting out of the way from the sliding runner and making a strong, accurate throw to 1st base. In the 2nd inning, he made a play to his right that was harder than the first one. He showed off his really good arm and it was another accurate throw (his problem with the arm in Tacoma was accuracy). It was a nice looking play.
In the 5th, he wasn’t quite in the normal shortstop position, being shifted to the right against Ian Kinsler. Kinsler hit a grounder right into the shift, and Triunfel gobbled it up easily and threw to first for the out. He would also make an easy catch on a high pop-fly in the 8th. Later in the inning, he would make a play very similar to the double play earlier in the game, using athleticism to get out of the runners way and a strong arm to get the runner. He was the back part of another one in the 9th, but this one was much easier.
His first at-bat, against Martin Perez of course, started with him taking a low fastball/sinker. Perez came back with another low fastball, but this one the umpire called a strike. When Perez came back with another low fastball, this one a bit outside or at least on the outer part of the plate, Triunfel swung and fouled it off. At 1-2, Perez was able to go to a changeup and get Triunfel to ground-out to 3rd. As Tacoma Rainiers announcer Mike Curto (@CurtoWorld) and the Mariners PR account pointed out, Triunfel has been much better against left-handed pitching (.794 OPS versus .673 OPS over the last two years in the minors), so this was a smart day to start him.
His 2nd at-bat came in the 4th and in typical Triunfel fashion, he swung at the first pitch, an inside fastball. He hit what looked like a ground-ball but it chopped over Michael Young’s head and went into the outfield to the wall for a double. The play scored Casper Wells and Triunfel would score on a Young error.
Triunfel’s 3rd at-bat came in the 6th against right-hander Scott Feldman. For some reason, Olivo was caught stealing after Triunfel watched strike one, a fastball in the zone. He was able to lay off a curve that was in the left-handed hitters’ batters box, but when Feldman hung one in the zone, Triunfel didn’t make him pay, fouling it off and falling behind in the count again. A high fastball in the outer part of the strike zone was fouled off the other way and Feldman hung yet another curve in the zone. Triunfel beat it into the ground and Feldman turned it into an easy out.
I still think that Brendan Ryan is the guy at short going into next year and (hopefully) beyond. I don’t trust Triunfel to contribute consistently, especially with the bat (and before you point out that Ryan doesn’t produce with the bat, remember that he is elite defensively on a level that Triunfel simply isn’t. Just for fun, Triunfel had an OPS of about .050 points higher in AAA than Ryan, but Ryan had 15 more stolen bases in less games). However, he is part of the Mariners future at least for now. They are going to have to decide how they want to approach handling Triunfel going forward, especially for the 2013 season. Personally, I would love to see Triunfel used in the Kawasaki role next year, the utility infielder. He isn’t as fast, but is similar defensively (perhaps a little worse), and could certainly hit more and would be cheaper than signing a free agent (my guess is that they still bring in at least 1 AAAA Andres Blanco/Luis Rodriquez type on a minor league deal just to see). The counterargument is that Triunfel is still just 22 and could use more seasoning by playing every day in AAA. That is a valid argument, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if he was placed there. What Triunfel’s actual future in the big leagues happens to be is still to be found out. He has gotten his first start in the Majors, which is more than what most players that play minor league baseball can say.