ANAHEIM, Calif. – Too early for the Mariners to hit the panic button as their new-and-(supposedly)-improved lineup continues to throw oil? Probably. It’s just five games.
Tiresome, maybe, but true. It is just five games. Even so, the Mariners might want to at least locate that panic button for future reference after Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
The Mariners are 1-4 though five games, which is – check the standings – the worst record in baseball. They have scored nine runs in five games, and just five runs in their four losses.
“The track record will play,” third baseman Kyle Seager insisted. “When we look back on the season at the end of the year, the numbers are going to be there. Everything is going to be there.
“Everything is going to be right where it’s supposed to be. It’s not the stretch we want, but it’s five games.”
Perhaps, but the Mariners paid a price in 2014 and 2016 for slow starts late in the season when they were eliminated on the final weekend from postseason consideration.
More than a slow start, they got schooled Friday by Angels right-hander Jesse Chavez, whom they have long treated as a punching bag.
Chavez is in his 10th season, a legitimate accomplishment, largely because of his rubber arm and the ability to eat innings by filling any number of roles on a staff.
Two years ago, Chavez made 26 starts in 30 appearances for Oakland. Last year, he made 63 relief appearances for Toronto and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Angels have him slotted as the fifth guy in their rotation.
Before Friday, though, Chavez was 0-6 with a 5.84 ERA in 17 appearances against the Mariners, including seven starts. Further, he’d been battered by Robinson Cano (10 for 22) and Nelson Cruz (6 for 14 with three homers).
These stats weren’t ancient history, either. Chavez pitched for American League West-rival Oakland from 2012-15.
“I would say nothing was different,” Cano said. “He was the same guy. You have to give him credit. Even if you go out and make (someone) look better than they are, you still have to give him credit.”
Maybe it was just the law of averages catching up when Chavez held the Mariners to one hit for 5 2/3 suffocating innings before the smoke cleared from his mirrors.
Three straight hits by Mitch Haniger, Cano and Cruz trimmed the lead to 2-1 and put runners at first and third before the Angels could get lefty reliever Jose Alvarez into the game.
Alvarez struck out Seager on three pitches.
Mariners starter Yovani Gallardo then gave that run back immediately when Cameron Maybin opened the bottom of the inning with a homer.
When Andrelton Simmons followed with a single, the Mariners went to the bullpen for Casey Fien, who ended that inning without further problems. But Fien served up a two-run homer to Kole Calhoun in the seventh.
That made it 5-1, and that’s how it ended. The Mariners mustered little over the final three innings against Bud Norris, Andrew Bailey and Blake Parker.
Gallardo minimized damage in his five-plus innings. He gave up three runs and eight hits but kept the Angels hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. He also should have escaped the third inning without a run.
It didn’t start well for Gallardo, who yielded a leadoff line single to Yunel Escobar before Calhoun painted the left-field line with a drive that hopped into the stands for a rulebook double.
Mike Trout delivered a sacrifice fly to center for a 1-0 lead, but Gallardo stopped the damage at that point by retiring the next two batters on grounders to third.
Gallardo breezed through a 1-2-3 second inning but found trouble again in the third when Martin Maldonado and Escobar opened the inning with singles.
Calhoun struck out but an intentional walk to Trout loaded the bases for Albert Pujols, who hit what should have been a double-play grounder to Seager at third.
Except Seager fumbled the glove-to-hand exchange. A run scored, everybody was safe, and the bases were still loaded with one out. Again, Gallardo limited the damage by retiring the next two batters.
“I don’t know,” Seager said. “I caught it clean. I went to grab it, and the next thing I know, it’s flipped over my head. That was the pitch (Gallardo) needed to make. He did his job. He got the ground ball with the bases loaded.”
PLAY OF THE GAME: The Angels started Trout from first base with no outs on an 0-1 pitch to Pujols in the fifth inning. Pujols sent a soft floater into center. Trout took a look and kept running.
Center fielder Jarrod Dyson sprinted in and easily made a sliding catch as Trout tried to reverse gears. Dyson got to his feet and threw to first for the double play.
The throw wasn’t perfect. Credit first baseman Danny Valencia for being able to reach for the ball while maintaining contact with he base.
PLUS: It’s not an entire plus that it’s worth noting that Fien sprinted from the mound on a grounder to first base and was therefore in position to take a throw from shortstop Jean Segura in completing a double play. That play has been a problem for the Mariners in previous games.
MINUS: Seager had a forgettable game in committing a run-scoring error at third base in the third inning, and then striking out with the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the sixth. As manager Scott Servais noted: “There’s not a lot going right for him right now. It happens to players. They get in funks.”
STAT PACK: Seager has three errors in five games. He won a Gold Glove for defensive excellence in 2014 and was one of three Gold Glove finalists in 2016.
QUOTABLE: “We know as a team what we can do,” Cruz said. “It’s just a matter of time. Hopefully, tomorrow is the day.”
SHORT HOPS: The Angels manipulated the pace-of-play rules with legal precision when Chavez suddenly seemed to hit the wall with two outs in the sixth inning. Two infield conferences on the mound. A visit from pitching coach Charles Nagy interspersed with catcher Martin Maldonado repeatedly standing in front of the play to direct the defense. Finally, manager Mike Scioscia went to the mound and signaled to the bullpen for Alvarez.
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