ANAHEIM, Calif. – While their rotation has grown stronger, their bats have reversed direction to the point at which the current Seattle Mariners are starting to resemble their squads of two or three years back.
Sure, they’re hitting far more home runs. But there is precious little outside of those, as was evident Wednesday night in this 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
Every game on the trip has taken on added importance for a Mariners team trying to make inroads in its quest to return to a .500 record. The Mariners are again nine games under .500 with Thursday night’s finale here to determine whether they end the trip with a winning or losing record.
Coming into the contest, Mariners starters led all of baseball with a 1.84 earned-run average over the last 10 games. But as hard as the Mariners have played most games of this trip, they’ve seen their scoring limited to an inning or two per night. That’s had the impact of keeping games much closer than they might have been and also of seeing tight contests turn into blowouts once the other team starts scoring and the Mariners can’t keep pace.
Joe Saunders was again the victim of a lack of run support on the road, tossing an eight-inning complete game and allowing just one run. But the Mariners mustered just two hits against Angels starter C.J. Wilson over seven innings and then none against the Los Angeles bullpen to drop their second game in three tries here.
A crowd of 35,401 at Angel Stadium saw Saunders scatter six hits and escape serious trouble when he had to.
Saunders was making just the second start of his career against the Angels. He broke in with the Angels in 2005 and pitched parts of six seasons for them. He had lost his only other outing against them while pitching for the Diamondbacks, taking a 2-0 defeat.
This time around, he still hadn’t received a single run of support by the time he breezed through the seventh inning with a pitch count of 81. His lone run against didn’t even come on a hit, but a wild pitch that bounced through the legs of catcher Mike Zunino in the sixth inning to score Mike Trout from third base.
Saunders threw a scare into the Mariners moments later when he had his glove ripped off his hand by a Howie Kendrick line drive. The ball was picked up by Brendan Ryan, who threw Kendrick out at first base.
Team trainers hustled out to tend to Saunders, but he stayed in the game, recorded the inning’s final out, then breezed through the seventh 1-2-3. Saunders nearly got his first runs of support against the Angels in the top of the seventh when Zunino unleashed a drive to left field with two on and two out.
But Trout raced back and hauled the ball in near the wall for the inning’s final out.
Before that, the Mariners had their only other chance to score against Wilson in the second inning. Kendrys Morales hit a high chopper that Wilson was about to field, but then let hit the ground, perhaps hoping it would bounce foul.
It did not and Morales later took second base on a wild pitch.
Two strikeouts later, Zunino walked to put two on. But Michael Saunders popped out foul in shallow left and the Mariners didn’t get another chance until five innings later.
Saunders kept things close in the early going by working out of some tight spots. After a one-out double by Alberto Callaspo in the second inning, Saunders got Josh Hamilton to ground out on a chopper in front of the plate and then struck out Erick Aybar.
With runners at the corners and one out in the third inning, he got Albert Pujols to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Then, with two on and two out in the eighth and the Angels seeking a huge insurance run, Saunders got Mark Trumbo to ground to second baseman Nick Franklin, who stepped on his bag and threw to first for another double play.
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