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Seattle Mariners

Mariners’ offense falls silent again in 6-1 loss to Nationals

Mariners third baseman Dylan Moore attempts to field a ball hit by the Nationals’ CJ Abrams on Friday in Washington, D.C.  (Tribune News Service)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

WASHINGTON – For the first three innings, George Kirby was crisp, efficient and, well, perfect. Nine hitters had come to the plate and nine hitters were retired on just 24 pitches. He threw nine pitches in the first, eight in the second and seven in the third.

Was something special building for him and the Mariners on Friday night at Nationals Park?

Not quite.

Instead, it ended up being a familiar path to frustration and a common result on this road trip.

On a night when he would’ve needed to remain close to perfect to give his team a chance to win, thanks to another dismal showing from the offense, Kirby’s outing fell apart in the fourth inning and the Mariners’ all-or-nothing offense responded with the latter in a 6-1 loss to the Nationals.

“Not a whole lot to say about that one,” M’s manager Scott Servais muttered quietly before starting his postgame statement. “We got outpitched, we got outhit, we got outscored. We didn’t play a great game tonight.”

Normally willing to search for some positives, Servais’ tone was less than hopeful. It was obvious frustration. The Mariners fell to 3-5 on the 10-game road trip and would need to win the final two games of the series to salvage a .500 record on this East Coast run. Nothing about the way they are playing speaks to that happening.

“I’m disappointed,” Servais said. “We need to play better than that. That’s just where it’s at. We need to do more offensively. We cannot just rely on our pitching every night to go out and shut people down.”

Kirby seemed to have shutout-level stuff in those first three innings. But his outing went from flawless to forgettable as the Nationals’ lineup faced him a second time.

Leadoff hitter C.J. Abrams dropped in a soft single to right for the Nats’ first base runner to start the fourth inning. Kirby got Eddie Rosario to fly out to center for the first out. But Joey Meneses, who looked overwhelmed in his first at-bat, striking out on elevated fastballs, ripped a hard single to left on an elevated sinker that stayed in the middle half of the plate.

Kirby’s next pitch changed the entire game. He fired a first-pitch slider that sat thigh high and in the middle of the plate. Left-handed hitting Luis Garcia crushed it over the fence in left field for an opposite-field three-run homer.

“I didn’t execute that slider,” Kirby said. “That’s one I want back.”

A quick glance shows that Kirby’s slider had been thrown 168 times coming into his outing and yielded 12 hits, including two doubles and two homers with five strikeouts. But a closer look reveals that all the damage is on sliders that stay in the middle of the plate. When he throws the pitch to the edges or off the plate to get chase, he has just eight balls in play of the 100 sliders in those parts of the strike zone with 12 whiffs, 23 called strikes and eight foul balls.

“It’s just a matter of an inch or two,” Kirby said. “A slider outside just leaks down in the middle. Usually, those don’t get hit for home runs. Recently they are, so I’ve got to be a little more fine with that pitch.”

Kirby came back to strike out Jesse Winker looking but gave up back-to-back singles to Keibert Ruiz and Nick Senzel. But Kirby kept the damage to only three runs and was one out away from a quality start of six innings pitched, three runs or fewer allowed.

But a two-out walk to Winker in the sixth after being up 1-2 in the count left him disgusted. Ruiz then took advantage of a 3-2 sinker down the middle and belt high, smashing a two-run homer to right-center.

Kirby’s final line: six innings pitched, five runs allowed on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

“Mistakes,” catcher Cal Raleigh said of the Nationals’ success after the first three innings. “It’s not just George, but anybody in the league. You come up here and you throw balls middle-middle, they’re gonna get whacked. You can occasionally get away with it if you have elite stuff or outlier pitches or offspeed, but hitters in MLB are just too good.”

Meanwhile, Mariners hitters were busy being stymied by the Nationals young lefty MacKenzie Gore.

The former top pitching prospect, who has a fastball that sits in the upper 90s to go with a nasty slider, tied a career high with seven innings pitched, allowing just one run on four hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.

“Gore’s got really good stuff and is having a good season,” Servais said. “He’s starting to figure some things out, obviously. He’s got a really good fastball and secondary pitches that go along with it, but we have really struggled to put much together against starting pitching here recently. That’s got to get better. You aren’t going to win games 1-0 or 2-1 on the road.”

The Mariners had just five hits on the night. Their lone run came on Gore’s second pitch of the game. Leadoff hitter J.P. Crawford hammered a solo homer to left-center to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. The Mariners never threatened to score again.

“We did hit some balls hard off him and they made some good defensive plays,” Servais said.

And yet …

“You can’t win that way, especially on the road,” Raleigh said. “You can’t score one or two runs and expect your pitching staff to carry us like that. It’s not feasible. We’ve got to pick it up a little bit. We’ve got to find ways to score more runs. Right, it’s only been on a few long balls, which have been good, but you can’t live and die by that.”