SEATTLE — Eric Wedge waited a month to return to the dugout to manage the Seattle Mariners.
And in his first game back, he was quickly given a reminder of his team’s inconsistencies on offense.
Wedge’s return from a mild stroke suffered July 22 was spoiled by the live arm of Garrett Richards and anemic approach of Mariners hitters in a 2-0 loss, Friday at Safeco Field.
“As the game wore on, I felt more and more comfortable,” Wedge said of his first game back managing. “I wasn’t sure how my energy was going to be. But it was good. My focus was good. We just didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of action tonight.”
Richards produced his best start of the year, pitching 7 1/3 shutout innings, giving up just four hits, while striking out four and walking two to improve to 4-5 on the season.
The numbers might have been even better had Richards been able to avoid the line drive off the bat of Dustin Ackley with one out in the eighth inning. The hard shot hit Richards on his right forearm and bounced to shortstop Erick Aybar, who threw Ackley out of first.
Richards left the game with a forearm contusion. The Mariners weren’t sad to see him go. He’d kept them out of sorts all night, using his mid-90s fastball and nasty curve.
“He’s got a live arm,” said Seattle shortstop Brad Miller. “His fastball dives and cuts and I think he did good job the second and third time though using that curveball to keep us off balance.”
Richards has the arm, the velocity and the stuff to make him successful. But he’s never had consistent command. Angels manager Mike Scioscia didn’t heap a vast amount of praise on Richards, who has returned to the rotation after working as a reliever in May and June.
“As he’s got into his length he’s maintained his stuff,” Scioscia said. “Tonight, he was effectively wild, got behind some counts, but a couple 3-0 counts he came right back and ended up getting a 3-2 slider to get a couple guys looking. He was not ahead of hitters tonight – his first-ball strike ratio wasn’t good – but his stuff played. He got back into counts, got some outs when he had to, got some double play balls. He had good stuff I just don’t know if his command was as crisp tonight.”
The Mariners didn’t do much with it. They couldn’t take advantage of those times he did fall behind.
“When he made some mistakes, you can foul it off or take it,” Wedge said. “You can’t miss them. I felt like we swung through some fastballs we needed to get on. We fouled off some fastballs we needed to put in play.”
The Mariners closest scoring opportunity came in the first inning. Brad Miller led off the game with a single. With two outs, Kyle Seager crushed a ball to center field. It was hit well, but not well enough – even in the newly configured Safeco Field. Peter Bourjos caught the ball, slamming into the wall.
“He hit a ball about as good as he could have,” said Miller, who had two of the team’s five hits.
The Mariners had just one runner reach second base in the game.
Seattle starter Felix Hernandez is used to starts with minimal run support. This time, however, he couldn’t keep the Angels scoreless to give his flailing hitters a chance.
With one out and Josh Hamilton on first in the second inning, Hernandez hung a 2-2 change-up to third baseman Chris Nelson, who crushed it into the visitor’s bullpen in left field.
“Just one pitch,” Hernandez said. “It was a little up and in the middle.”
It was the only runs Hernandez would give up on the night. He worked six innings and struck out 10. But just that one pitch hurt him.
“It’s part of that game,” Hernandez said. “If you make a mistake and they hit it, you just have to live with it.”
Wedge lifted Hernandez after the sixth inning with his pitch count at 104. Hernandez lobbied to stay in, but Wedge held firm.
“I had a conversation with Eric,” Hernandez said. “He said, ‘it’s late in the season and I don’t want you to go out and throw 120.’ I understand that. He’s the boss.”
The Mariners got two scoreless innings of relief from Carter Capps and a 1-2-3 ninth inning from Oliver Perez. But there was no offense to be found. In the ninth inning, Kendrys Morales came up with a two-run single against Angels closer Ernest Frieri. Raul Ibanez came to the plate representing the tying run, but he struck out swinging to end the game.
“When we strike out 15 times in a game, it’s tough to image we are going to win,” Scioscia said.
It was tough for the Mariners to imagine losing in Wedge’s return to the dugout after missing a month while recovering from a mild stroke.
“It’s disappointing,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to win this game for him.”