SEATTLE – The baseball had been struck a few minutes prior by Victor Martinez and caught by Michael Saunders, and now here it was in the Mariners clubhouse, being handed to rookie left-hander Roenis Elias as a keepsake to remind him of the best performance of his young professional career.
“Thank you,” said Elias, who defected from Cuba in 2010, then worked his way through the Mariners’ minor league system, then was inserted into Seattle’s starting rotation after spring training this season despite never pitching above the Double-A level.
That might have seemed a risky move at the time. It doesn’t anymore.
Elias was masterful against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday afternoon, fooling one of baseball’s toughest lineups with an array of change-ups and curveballs, pitching a complete-game, three-hit shutout as he led the Mariners to a 4-0 victory at Safeco Field.
It was the first complete-game of Elias’ career, which entails all of 12 starts. It was also the first shutout thrown by a Mariners rookie since Freddy Garcia did it in 1999.
“He had all his secondary stuff. His change-up was exceptional,” M’s manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He kept the fastball down for the most part. Curveball was good as well. I thought the change-up was the equalizer today.”
This was as efficient as Elias (4-4, 3.53 ERA), who had eight strikeouts, has been this season. He’d gone seven innings twice before, and his 111 pitches Sunday matched the most he’s thrown in a major league game.
Everything worked, the 25-year-old said.
“I was told that to have success you have to have command of three pitches,” Elias said through an interpreter. “And today the fastball, curveball and change-up were all working.”
As a result, he dominated. Detroit advanced only one runner past first base.
The Mariners (28-28) didn’t need much offense behind Elias, but they went ahead and scored some runs anyway. Saunders drove in Endy Chavez with a double in the first. Willie Bloomquist, starting at second base again in place of the injured Robinson Cano, recorded another two hits, including an RBI double in the fifth. He later scored on an RBI single by James Jones.
Brad Miller, the M’s shortstop who entered the game batting .158, hit his first home run since April 11 – 130 plate appearances ago – in the seventh to provide the final cushion.
Relief pitchers Danny Farquhar and Fernando Rodney each readied in the Mariners bullpen, but McClendon said it wasn’t a difficult decision to send Elias back to the mound for the ninth inning.
M’s pitching coach Rick Waits checked in briefly to see if Elias was still good to go. He’d thrown 102 pitches through eight innings, and Tigers Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Martinez were due up.
Nine pitches produced a flyout, a groundout and another flyout, and the only thing left to do was track down the baseball used for the final out, the one Elias accepted afterward as a souvenir.