ARLINGTON, Texas — No offense to Nick Tepesch, but the Seattle Mariners will be glad to see him starting on the pitcher’s mound Saturday.
It’s not a knock on Tepesch’s pitching skills, which are pretty good. It’s not the fact the rookie will be making just the third major league start of his career.
No, the Mariners simply need a break from facing dominating strikeout machines.
For the third straight game, Seattle had to face a tough starting pitcher who can make hitters swing and miss. And for the third straight game, the Mariners did a lot of swinging and missing.
Seattle hitters struck out 10 times against Texas starter Yu Darvish, and couldn’t manage a run in a 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Friday at the Ballpark at Arlington.
Besides the 10 strikeouts, Darvish gave up just three hits and three walks in his seven innings.
It was the third straight game where the opposing starter has reached double-digit strikeouts against Seattle.
To be fair to the Mariners (7-11), as impotent as their offense might appear this season, the previous three games came against some of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball. Max Scherzer, who struck out 12 in eight innings Wednesday, averaged 11.078 strikeouts per nine innings last season – highest in baseball. Justin Verlander, who also struck out 12 hitters in seven innings Thursday, was third in the American League at 9.025 strikes per nine innings, and Darvish was second behind Scherzer at 10.396.
While those 34 combined strikeouts could be understandable to some, Mariners manager Eric Wedge was not one of them.
“We have faced good pitchers, but we are a lot better than that,” he said. “We have got to do a better job with two strikes. There’s certain things we need to do better prior to that to create damage, but speaking on the strikeouts, we need to do a better job. We are capable and we should be better than that.”
Kyle Seager couldn’t disagree with his manager.
“Yeah, that’s three pretty good arms and that’s what they do, but that’s on us,” Seager said. “We obviously need to do a better job of putting the ball in play.”
And that’s been frustrating for Wedge because the strikeouts aren’t just from these last three games.
Seattle has struck out 148 times this season; second most in the American League behind Houston, which has 158.
So how do they get better with two strikes?
“Just protecting the plate and being disciplined at the same time,” Wedge said. “That’s why it’s so tough to hit – it’s one of the many reasons. One, you are up there not to take strike three. But, two, you are up there not to chase, too. It’s having better discipline and pitch recognition.”
The Mariners have traditionally done pretty well against Darvish. They beat him in his last start at Safeco Field. But it wasn’t happening Friday.
“I thought he pitched a little bit different today, and was better today than he was the last time,” Wedge said. “You saw all the breaking balls the last time, but he used his fastball more effectively tonight.”
Seager, who had the only extra base hit in the game for Seattle – a third-inning double – noticed the difference.
“Last time he didn’t throw too many fastballs, but today he got ahead with it more,” Seager said. “You get in there, you’ll see multiple kinds of pitches and they are all good pitches. You end up having to look for location more than necessarily looking for a certain kind of pitch. He threw the ball well tonight.”
Even with Darvish dominating, the Mariners weren’t completely out of it early. Starter Joe Saunders kept the game within reach for the first four innings.
They were far from perfect innings with runners on base in each. But he gave up just one run – a second-inning solo homer to Jeff Baker.
Then, everything fell apart in the fifth inning.
With one out, the Rangers loaded the bases on a Lance Berkman single, a walk to Adrian Beltre and another single from Nelson Cruz.
Saunders tried to go inside to A.J. Pierzynski and made a decent pitch, in on the hands, but Pierzynski managed to flare a blooper into shallow left to score two runs.
“He stayed inside the ball really well and found a hole behind shortstop,” Saunders said. “You make a pitch and that’s all you can do.”
Saunders walked Baker, and then allowed another run on a groundout to short. Craig Gentry then delivered another big blow, lining a sharp ball to left field. Raul Ibañez charged in, but his spike got caught in the outfield grass tripping him as he was about to field the ball. It rolled past him to the wall, allowing two runs to score and Gentry to reach third on what was ruled a triple.
“It was one of the weird innings where you make a pitch and they find a hole,” Saunders said. “You have to tell yourself to keep making pitches, keep hitting spots. But it just snowballed on us. And I couldn’t get out of it.”
Wedge replaced Saunders with Hector Noesi, who promptly gave up an RBI double to Ian Kinsler. The run was charged to Saunders. It would be the last hit Noesi gave up. In the search for positives, Noesi retired 10 straight hitters after that and saved the Mariners’ bullpen.
“That was big,” Wedge said. “Hector really stepped up for us. We’ve been pushing those guys in the pen and for us to be able to give them a night off like that, that’s why we brought Hector up here.”