Aaron Harang’s first three starts with the Mariners prompted repeated adjective searches.
The veteran’s first outing was mediocre. His second poor. Of his third, which lasted just three innings, putrid seemed applicable.
Manning the mound again Wednesday night, Harang squelched a deep Orioles offense. He cruised through the first five innings and survived a shaky sixth in the Mariners’ series-clinching 8-3 win over Baltimore in front of 12,936 mostly sweatshirt-covered fans.
Harang’s outing and 32 hits by the Mariners in the series capped a 5-2 homestand that changed the team’s vibe, at least temporarily. Manager Eric Wedge had choice words for the club on the road. Wednesday’s game felt more like wish fulfillment.
“When we came home, we knew we were going to head in a better direction,” Wedge said. “I think we started to head in the right direction offensively in Houston a little bit. It just wasn’t translating at that time.
“What you’re seeing now is more the norm in regard to what our guys are capable of.”
Harang (1-3) provided indications early his night would not be reminiscent of his previous three struggles. The first inning was a one-two-three Sunday stroll and just the second three-up, three-down inning the 34-year-old right-hander had managed since joining the Mariners as a possible answer to the hemorrhaging at the back end of the rotation.
Harang, Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis had been searching for a remedy. Harang worked on keeping his front side closed longer during delivery. He reverted to the most basic process, the towel drill, just to get back in rhythm.
Willis called former pitching coaches who had previously handled Harang. Wedge and Willis were familiar with Harang from their time in Cleveland when the big right-hander was in Cincinnati but had not managed him directly prior to his arrival in Seattle.
Though it appeared Harang may have been pitching for his spot in the rotation Wednesday night, that was not the feeling he received from Wedge or Willis.
“They knew the last couple starts weren’t typical of how I pitch,” Harang said. “I don’t think they were really worrying ... at least they weren’t letting on that.”
A proficient Mariners offense undressed Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen, whose mix of a low-90s fastball and tender off-speed pitches had served him well prior to Wednesday. Chen came into Safeco Field with a restrictive 2.53 ERA. He left with it raised to 3.50.
That was in part because lead-footed Jesus Montero tripled to lead off the second inning when his drive to center hit off Adam Jones’ glove and Jones ended up caroming off the fence. It was Montero’s first career triple.
Michael Saunders drove him in with a single, and Kendrys Morales brought in Saunders with a single to right. Morales scored the first run of the game for the Mariners (13-17) in the first inning, when resurgent Jason Bay drove him in with a double down the left-field line.
“The offense is starting to get better, the way it was in spring training,” Morales said through interpreter Jaime Navarro.
Saunders’ versatility was displayed throughout the evening. He made a running catch in deep center, pulled a line-drive to right, stole a base and put down a bunt for a hit on his way to a three-hit night and three runs scored.
Mariners strongman Michael Morse hit a homer to right for the second consecutive night. Wednesday’s night shot was a line drive to right field, a rare event for a right-hander to homer in the Mariners’ home run-oppressive home park.
Morse became the seventh player in Mariners history to hit at least nine home runs in the team’s first 30 games of a season – the first since Mike Cameron in 2002. His homer total ties for the American League lead.
The piling on continued when the Mariners smacked around reliever Zach Clark, who was making his major league debut for the Orioles (13-17). Three consecutive hits – singles by Saunders and Seager, plus a double that scored both by Morales – led to three more runs and a 7-2 Mariners lead. Morales had three hits and three RBI.
Harang showed enough to leave the Mariners hopeful he and Joe Saunders may have settled down and will deliver solid innings. They combined for two wins and a 2.40 ERA against Baltimore.