SEATTLE — One day after being named the Tacoma Rainiers’ pitcher of the year, Luke French proved to be nearly unhittable at the big league level Friday night.
The 24-year-old left-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and picked up the slack for another disappointing offensive showing by the Mariners in a 1-0 win against the Cleveland Indians in front of a Safeco Field crowd of 17,271.
French was relieved by Brandon League with a lead in the eighth inning after allowing one hit in seven innings, with four strikeouts and three walks on 99 pitches, 64 for strikes.
League and closer David Aardsma sealed the shutout, but it got interesting in the ninth. Aardsma allowed a leadoff walk to pinch-hitter Trevor Crowe, but catcher Adam Moore threw a dart to second base to catch him stealing.
Then Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera recorded back-to-back singles before Shin-Soo Choo flew out to Mariners left fielder Michael Saunders, who made a sliding catch in foul territory. After a groan-inducing wild pitch moved two runners into scoring position, Aardsma struck out Shelley Duncan out on a high fastball to end it.
Seattle (53-82) has gone 11 games without scoring more than three runs in a game.
The Mariners wouldn’t need them Friday. French got off to a masterful start, retiring the first eight Cleveland batters before allowing a four-pitch walk to catcher Lou Marson in the third inning. French, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder rarely allowed a hard-hit ball in his 23 batters faced.
The no-hitter end ended with one out in the seventh inning when Duncan hammered a hard ground ball up the middle past diving shortstop Josh Wilson.
The hit gave Cleveland (54-81) two base runners, Choo having walked earlier in the inning. But French immediately got out of the jam when Jayson Nix lined out hard to Saunders, who then fired to second base to double off Choo.
Seattle took an early lead in the first inning, but also missed a great opportunity to pile on with Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona struggling with his command. After Franklin Gutierrez singled up the middle to score Ichiro, Russell Branyan walked to load the bases with nobody out. The danger quickly subsided, however, when Jose Lopez struck out on three pitches and Casey Kotchman grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Carmona, despite walking three of his first eight batters, induced another double play to get out of the second inning and settled down the rest of the way, not allowing a runner past second base until the sixth inning. The right-hander, who pitched a complete game, got a break in the fourth inning when Kotchman was nailed by Duncan, the Indians’ left fielder, as he tried to stretch a hit into a double.
The Mariners had a rare scoring chance in the sixth inning when Gutierrez walked and stole second, but with two outs Lopez grounded out to short. That stolen base by the Mariners’ center fielder gave Seattle three players with 20 or more thefts in a season for the sixth time in team history (last done in 2001).
It was French, however, who stole the show Friday.