CLEVELAND – The chances of a victory were slim even before the first pitch was thrown Sunday. Seattle had rookie Chase De Jong making his first major league start against the reigning American League champs.
With that working against them, the Mariners needed to play well to steal a victory for a series win to make a road trip that started off with three deplorable losses to Oakland seem somewhat tolerable.
Instead, Seattle slogged its way through a 12-4 loss that included an abysmal third inning in which the Indians scored eight runs and the Mariners did plenty to help them reach that season high for an inning, failing to make plays that needed to be made.
“It kind of unraveled there,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s a loss and we just didn’t play well.”
The Mariners head back to Seattle with a 4-6 record on the 10-game road trip and get a much-needed off day Monday. At 11-15, they’ll open a six-game home stand on Tuesday with three-game series against a pair of American League West rivals – the Angels and Rangers.
For every stretch of solid baseball like the three straight wins on the trip, there are reminders in losses like Sunday that this team has multiple flaws that need to be addressed.
“I think we are inconsistent, just a lot of ups and downs,” said Nelson Cruz, who homered and drove in two runs. “It looks like we are going to roll and then we don’t.”
In March, when everything was positive in the sunshine of Peoria, Arizona, Servais talked about the importance of getting off to a strong start in the first month of the season.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get off to a better start,” Servais said. “It is what it is. We have a long ways to go. We’ve showed some positive signs on offense and with our bullpen, but we’ve got a couple of guys out of our starting rotation so there are going to be a few days like this when you stub your toe.”
Now 26 games into the season and with starter Felix Hernandez and outfielder Mitch Haniger out for at least three weeks and starter Drew Smyly not expected to return until July, there aren’t immediate fixes. There are also other issues, specifically the production, or lack thereof, at first base and catcher.
The off day will likely bring yet more roster change, but will it help? It seems unlikely reliever Casey Fien will remain on the roster after another subpar outing. The hope is that recovering reliever Steve Cishek is ready in the coming days. He would almost assuredly bump Fien off the roster. If not, Dan Altavilla could also return with his 10-day minimum minor league assignment being up Monday. Lefty Dillon Overton, who threw five innings in mop-up time, could also be moved out to get a fresh arm. The Mariners must also make a decision on De Jong on whether he showed enough to warrant another start in Hernandez’s spot in the rotation. If not, Overton would be the likely option. But one of them is probably destined for Tacoma.
“We’ll see,” Servais said of the spot. “(De Jong) is a young pitcher trying to feel his way. I don’t think you want to have one and done with everybody. Sometimes you have to let guys ride.”
The conundrum at first base remains. The Mariners’ combined .160 batting average and .479 OPS from that spot in the lineup is the second-worst in the league. Daniel Vogelbach’s call up has yielded minimal offense – two singles in 14 at-bats and four strikeouts – and worse-than-expected results on defense. After two costly missed plays in Oakland, Vogelbach’s latest issues were an embarrassing misjudging of a pop-up in foul territory that left him laying awkwardly in the Progressive Field grass and the ball landing behind him.
That was followed by the failure to cleanly field a crisp ground ball behind the bag. He hasn’t looked comfortable on offense or defense and a return to Tacoma could be in the near future.
That Vogelbach is playing is a testament to how brutally bad Danny Valencia had performed (.181/.259/.306 slash line), forcing the Mariners to make the change. The Mariners could use Taylor Motter at first, but he has three hits in his last 20 at-bats and is 0 for his last 11 with seven strikeouts. D.J. Peterson is on the 40-man roster and playing relatively well at Tacoma. But there is nothing to suggest an urgency to bring him up.
Catcher Mike Zunino is struggling again, hitting .172, and there aren’t many options, with Carlos Ruiz not capable of playing every day at age 38 and Tuff Gosewisch being the only other catcher on the 40-man roster.
De Jong deserved a better fate though he wasn’t particularly crisp, pitching 2 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on nine hits with two walks and a strikeout.
“Not being able to have that fastball command that I’m known for and have had in the past, we were just out there trying to throw quality pitches,” he said. “It was on me. I did not execute well today, at all.”
With his parents and fiancée watching in the stands, he never made it out of that miserable third inning. He allowed plenty of solid contact in his outing, starting with a solo homer to Francisco Lindor in the first inning.
In the third with the game tied 1-1, he gave up a leadoff single and issued a one-out walk to start the problems and an RBI single by Jason Kipnis gave the Indians a 2-1 lead.
Then the defense fell apart. Robinson Cano made a nice over the shoulder catch on Lonnie Chisenhall’s pop-up into shallow right. Jose Ramirez, the runner at third, tested Cano and sprinted for home. Cano calmly fired home and his throw beat Ramirez. But Carlos Ruiz failed to get a tag down as Ramirez slid in head first for a 3-1 lead. If the tag is put down, it’s an inning-ending double play and a one-run deficit.
From there, Ben Gamel lost a fly ball in the sun in right that turned into an RBI triple for Abe Almonte. Catcher Roberto Perez’s hard one-hopper to shortstop ate up Jean Segura to score Almonte. Neither play was ruled an error but are plays that should be made.
It ended De Jong’s outing with his team down 5-1.
Needing just one more out, Servais turned to Fien, who walked the first batter he faced, gave up a double to Lindor and then a two-run homer to Michael Brantley.
An inning that could have ended with the Mariners trailing by just a couple of runs, ended with them down 9-1.
Seattle made a late push with consecutive RBI singles from Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager to cut it to 9-4 in the sixth. The Mariners loaded the bases with no outs. Motter was brought on to pinch hit, but struck out swinging against Nick Goody. Ruiz hit a line drive to shortstop that turned into an inning-ending double play.
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