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Seattle Mariners

Mariners waste superb start from Logan Gilbert, fall to Nationals for 4th straight loss

By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

WASHINGTON – Scott Servais needed his middle relievers to work two innings without allowing a run in hopes that the Seattle Mariners’ offense might somehow scratch out a run and he could find a way to have Andrés Muñoz finish off a win in the ninth.

It shouldn’t be an impossible ask. But given the recent struggles from everyone in the bullpen not named Muñoz and perhaps Ryne Stanek, it was a choice that came with risk.

The decision to do so, instead of pushing starter Logan Gilbert for another inning, was already being questioned and criticized well before the combination of Gabe Speier and Trent Thornton combined to give up two runs in the seventh inning, which proved to be the difference in a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Nationals.

The Mariners have lost the first two games of the series and their last four games on this 10-game East Coast road trip. Saturday’s defeat at Nationals Park guaranteed it will be a losing trip. But will it be 3-7 or 4-6 over the 10 games?

The four-game losing streak is the Mariners’ longest of the season, prompting Servais to hold a brief team meeting afterward.

“We’re on the East Coast trip and we’ve played a lot of day games and it’s been a little different,” Servais said. “We need to come out and play better and get the game tomorrow, get on the plane and go home from there. We’re just not playing good baseball. We’re not doing anything consistently offensively. It’s been rough for us the last few days.”

Of course, an explanation for pulling Gilbert after he’d thrown six strong innings on only 78 pitches was provided, although it likely won’t resonate with angry fans who won’t agree with the thinking or the person doing it.

“The fact is it is smokin’ hot out here and he’s running all over the field today,” Servais said of the temps in the high 80s. “It’s something that with our guys, because we have no off days here for our starters, we want to be smart with them and I had a rested bullpen. You’re looking at all the different factors. I thought Logan did exactly what we needed him to do today, get us to the seventh with a chance to win the game.”

The Mariners are part way through a stretch of 17 games in 17 days and a longer run of 30 games in 31 days. In early May, Servais said the plan was to monitor the workload during this 31-day stretch and limit starters more than usual since they have no extra days of rest.

The result is relying on unproven relievers in close games and leverage situations.

Gilbert was diplomatic about the decision postgame.

“I always want to go back out,” he said. “I try to stay in that mindset, too. When I finish an inning, I’m expecting to go back out until being told otherwise, because you don’t want to ever wish to come out or expect to come out and have to go back in. I was expecting to go back out, but I was told I wasn’t.”

Did he want to stay in?

“Of course, I wanted to, but I have complete trust in those guys in the bullpen,” he said. “They’re amazing at what they do. I respect (Servais’) decision. There’s nothing I can do about it. I always want to go back out, but I understand.”

Gilbert lobbied like always, but has yet to win one of those arguments.

“I’ve come close,” he said.

He could only watch as the 1-1 game turned to 3-1.

Speier allowed a one-out single to Jesse Winker and then watched as his former teammate swiped second to get into scoring position. A bloop single off the bat of Keibert Ruiz couldn’t be caught despite Dylan Moore’s hustling and sliding attempt. It put runners on the corners.

Servais called on Thornton to work around the damage. But a soft ground ball on a half swing from pinch-hitter Idlemaro Vargas allowed pinch-runner Victor Robles to race home with the go-ahead run. Thornton then gave up single to Joey Gallo, who came into the game hitting .122, that scored another run.

Speier was charged with both runs. His ERA now sits at 6.75 on the season. But Thornton, who has been thrust into more leverage situations with absence of Matt Brash and Gregory Santos and inconsistency of Stanek, has either allowed a run or allowed an inherited runner to score in eight of his last 12 outings. Of the 10 runners he’s inherited in outings this season, seven have scored.

“We just weren’t able to hold them down,” Servais said. “With where we were at in the game, I liked where our bullpen was at. We just didn’t get it done.”

But even had Servais kept Gilbert in the game and got another scoreless frame, or if Speier or Thornton could have avoided the damage, the Mariners still had to find a way to score another run in the eighth or ninth inning. And that’s the farthest thing from a given.

Down 3-1, the Mariners were held scoreless in eighth and ninth just like they were in every inning but the fifth.

“You have to do more than one run offensively,” Servais said.

For the first four innings, Washington starter Trevor Williams located his 89-mph sinker – that’s not a typo, it tops out at 90 mph on occasion – along with his slider and changeup to the edges of the strike zone. The Mariners did little against him, tallying two hits and striking out eight times, including Luke Raley, Cal Raleigh and Dominic Canzone in the fourth.

Julio Rodriguez ended Williams’ run of scoreless innings and his personal home run drought, crushing a sinker over the wall in dead center for this third homer of the year.

That was all the Mariners would get.

Williams was credited with five innings pitched, but he started the sixth inning and gave up a double to Dylan Moore, which ended his outing at 85 pitches. He allowed the one run on five hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.

Gilbert’s one run allowed came in the second inning. Luis Garcia reached on a swinging bunt that Gilbert tried to grab with a sliding attempt. After Garcia stole second, Winker dropped a drag bunt toward first base that Gilbert couldn’t quite grab despite a lunging, falling attempt. With runners on the corners, Ruiz hit a sac fly to center. Of the three hits allowed by Gilbert, only one – a fifth-inning double by Ruiz – left the infield.