SEATTLE — For the first four innings, it seemed like the Mariners would be celebrating the return of Marco Gonzales to the starting rotation, the improvements made by Taylor Trammell in Triple-A Tacoma and a sixth straight victory.
But after enduring the COVID-19 testing and contact tracing circus on the previous trip and flourishing despite the absences of relievers Will Vest, who rejoined the team on Sunday, Drew Steckenrider and Kendall Graveman, who are both still quarantining in San Diego, the Mariners’ bullpen suffered through an interminable six-run seventh inning making a short-sleeve perfect Tuesday evening at T-Mobile Park uncomfortable for the bulk of the Mariners fans in attendance.
It turned Seattle’s two-run lead into a four-run deficit and an eventual 12-6 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
How bad did it get? In the ninth inning, with Will Vest getting knocked around the yard, manager Scott Servais called on infielder Jack Mayfield to finish the inning. Mayfield threw a 55-mph curveball that got Mark Canha to ground into a force out to end the pummeling.
He was the only reliever not to give up a baserunner or run on the night. The bullpen as a whole gave up 11 runs on 11 hits with five walks and three strikeouts.
The Mariners’ five-game winning streak ended, and they fell back to .500 at 28-28 while the A’s improved to 32-25.
It took three pitchers – left-hander Hector Santiago, right-hander Paul Sewald and lefty Daniel Zamora – to record the three outs in that seventh inning. They combined to face 10 batters in the inning with the struggling Matt Chapman making the first and final out.
“We were in a pretty good spot there, but just couldn’t get that final out in the seventh,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “They hit some balls in some spots. When you’re going through a really good streak like we have been, we’re making all those plays and the balls are hit right at us. Tonight they found some holes, you got to give him credit. They put the bat on the ball and we just couldn’t get out of the seventh.”
The 33-year-old Santiago was making his Mariners debut, serving as long relief for Gonzales’ shortened start. Given a 4-1 lead, he allowed a run in the fifth, worked a scoreless sixth and gave up another run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly to Tony Kemp.
“Hector Santiago did exactly what we hoped he would,” Servais said. “He was throwing the ball well but got in some trouble with some traffic on the bases.”
With two outs, right-hander Paul Sewald was called upon to get the final out of the inning with a runner on third and two right-handed hitters, Mark Canha and Chad Pinder, up next in the A’s order.
Sewald had been a pleasant surprise since being called up. Relying primarily on his slider, he had not allowed a run in his previous four appearances – a total of six innings pitched.
But of his 20 pitches thrown, he threw just nine strikes. He gave up an infield single to Canha just out of the reach of both Kyle Seager and J.P. Crawford that tied the score at 4-4 and then walked the next two batters he faced to load the bases.
Servais went to Zamora to face the left-handed hitting Olson. It didn’t go as planned, with Olson blooping a pitch into right field for a two-run single. Sean Murphy followed with a double to left on a pitch at his ankles to score two more runs.
It only got worse. Zamora gave up two more runs in the eighth and Will Vest was rocked in the ninth.
Scheduled to pitch three innings in a start to build-up his pitch count, Gonzales gave Seattle four innings, allowing one run on two hits with a walk and six strikeouts. A 1-2-3 first inning that required only 10 pitches allowed him to get that extra inning of work for his team.
He pitched with rhythm, confidence and efficiency, exhibiting minimal rust from the layoff on the injured list. Of his pitches thrown, 33 were strikes with six swings and misses. He relied heavily on his sinker, throwing it 28 times and getting 20 strikes on it.
His only blemish came in the second inning when Olson drove a 1-0 sinker that was low in the strike zone over the left-field fence for his 14th homer of the season.
The Mariners answered with three runs in the third inning all with two outs off of A’s starter Chris Bassitt. Crawford singled and stole second and Mitch Haniger, Seager and Ty France all followed with RBI doubles to make it 3-1.
Trammell made it 4-1, smashing a solo homer to deep right-center in the fourth inning.
Gonzales was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left forearm on April 28 after a start in Houston.
After battling injuries early in his professional career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Gonzales has prided himself in his durability so a stint on the injured list even with what was considered to be a minor strain was an irritant. But what made it even more galling was the interruption into what had been a solid series of starts after a shaky start to the season.
After posting a 10.45 ERA in his first two starts, allowing 12 runs, 17 hits, including five homers in his first two starts, Gonzales had a 2.50 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched over his next three starts, despite going 1-2.
He was starting to get back to his typical form and then came the tightness in the forearm. But the Mariners are hopeful that this is a sign that he will get there quickly.
It also means Seattle can scrap the bullpen starts, which no one prefers to use, and have healthy starters for all six spots in their rotation for the first time since he went down with the injury.
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