ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Take away the first inning and Doug Fister threw a one-hitter over five shutout frames.
Then again, take away their first 154 games and the Mariners would be undefeated. Unfortunately for Fister and the Mariners on Saturday night, the first inning did indeed count in a 9-1 defeat against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The first five batters Fister faced hit the ball very hard and deep. There were two doubles, a single, a sacrifice fly to the warning track and then a two-run homer by Matt Joyce that nearly struck one of the catwalk rings high atop Tropicana Field.
“I was going to attack them with fastballs, keep it down and make the defense work,” Fister said. “But then, when I saw a couple of their hitters getting aggressive early in the count, I started to mix things up. It’s a little too late by that point, but that’s what I did.”
By the time Fister recovered, he was down four runs and his offensively-inept team, held to three runs or fewer in 23 of the past 26 games, could not recover. The Mariners are breaking in a bunch of youngsters at various positions and once again failed to deliver key hits.
The Mariners fell to 58-96 and need to go 5-3 over their final eight games to avoid a 100-loss season.
It’s been a season of learning experiences for Fister, who has had to make a number of in-game adjustments. But none have ever had to be made this quickly.
“That’s part of my job,” Fister said, taking the blame. “My job is to pinpoint when an adjustment is needed and make it as quickly as possible. I didn’t do it quickly enough this time.”
Tampa Bay blew the game open with five runs the final two innings off Seattle’s bullpen. B.J. Upton led off the seventh with a home run off Garrett Olson and then tripled in the eighth inning off Chris Seddon to bring home two more runs.
Mike Carp made his left field debut for Seattle and doubled in the fifth inning. But he strained the arch in his right foot rounding first base and had to leave the game.
Carp felt better afterward and is listed as day-to-day.
Matt Mangini, another young Mariner, had two more singles, giving him three hits his first two starts, but was doubled off first base on a soft lineout by Greg Halman when it was still a 4-1 game in the seventh.
“I know it was a bad baserunning mistake,” Mangini said. “I can’t remember the last time I did that during a game.”
Up to that point, Mangini had succeeded in limited action by just sticking to his role and not trying to do too much. He didn’t think the distraction of his first week in the big leagues had anything to do with getting doubled off.
“It’s one of those plays where, if he drops it, I’m out at second anyway,” Mangini said. “So, I have to just stick to the bag, and if it gets through, that’s when I go to second. It happens.”
Mariners manager Daren Brown agreed, saying he’ll discuss the play with Mangini and move on. Brown was more concerned with his team’s inability to generate any sustained offense against Rays starter Matt Garza after Fister recovered from his rough first inning.
“I thought he went to a few more off-speed pitches early in the count, then used his fastball later in the count,” Brown said. “It was a quick adjustment on his part and he was able to make it.”
But the Mariners couldn’t make a dent against Garza.
Franklin Gutierrez did hit an infield single to score Chone Figgins in the sixth with the only Mariners run.
Fister notched the only victory by Seattle over the Rays this season, a 4-3 victory here on May 14. He’d looked sharp his last time out, posting a 2-1 victory over Texas in which he scattered nine hits over seven innings.