SEATTLE – For six innings, Ryan Rowland-Smith did his best impersonation of the Seattle Mariners’ Big Three on Friday night.
For the light-hitting Mariners, whose top three pitchers are having great seasons, good starting pitching isn’t good enough.
Rowland-Smith’s return to the rotation included a three-run seventh, more offensive struggles and a bullpen meltdown as the Mariners lost 9-0 to the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field.
“You look at the final score, and you’re not happy,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “But there were some pretty good things that happened.”
The only obvious one was the starting pitching.
Rowland-Smith, who has spent most of the past two months fine-tuning his game at Triple-A Tacoma, was on cruise control for much of the night. After allowing a run on a bases-loaded, sacrifice fly in the top of the second inning, he retired 13 consecutive batters before Jhonny Peralta’s leadoff single in the seventh.
But the next batter, Travis Hafner, homered to center field to give the Indians a 3-0 lead. Two outs later, Ben Francisco hit a solo shot off Rowland-Smith.
Ryan Garko and Jamey Carroll added back-to-back homers off reliever Miguel Batista in a five-run ninth inning to cap off the Indians’ blowout win. Batista gave up more runs in two-thirds of an inning than the Mariners have scored in their past three games.
In only his second major-league start of 2009, Rowland-Smith (0-1) went seven innings and allowed four runs off five hits.
“I thought he had a good outing,” Wakamatsu said. “He set the tone early, his tempo was great, and he had a feel for all his pitches. … The wheels fell off (in the seventh), but I thought, for the first outing back, he showed pretty good stuff.”
The southpaw got plenty of help from his defense.
On the same night that center fielder Franklin Gutierrez returned from a wall-crashing injury that caused him to miss two games, right fielder Ichiro Suzuki made a couple of nice catches against the wall while avoiding injury. In between, third baseman Jack Hannahan did a nice job replacing injured starter Adrian Beltre with a stab-and-throw of a Jamey Carroll grounder.
But pitching and defense, which have been staples of the Mariners’ unexpected success this season, weren’t enough.
The offense got a pair of singles in the first inning but got only two hits the rest of the way.
Cleveland starter Aaron Laffey, who entered the game with a 4.27 ERA, made the Mariners’ bats look like Laffy Taffy.
He went seven scoreless innings and allowed just three hits, striking out seven. Laffey retired the last 13 batters he faced.
“Laffey threw a heck of a ball game,” Wakamatsu said. “He changed speeds and kept our hitters off balance.”
In their last three games, the Mariners (51-45) have had just four runs and 14 hits.