DETROIT — The Seattle Mariners’ search for victories will have to continue in Anaheim, Calif., because there were few to be found in the Motor City.
The Mariners on Thursday fell for the third time in four games at Detroit’s Comerica Park. They lost, 5-4, to the American League Central-leading Tigers, thanks to another failed outing from an overworked and ineffective bullpen.
Still, Mariners manager Eric Wedge found positives.
“I’m proud of our guys,” he said. “We gave them everything they could handle these past four days. We aren’t looking for moral victories, but I am very appreciative of the way these guys are fighting and stepping up to these teams at the end of the year.”
Moral victories might be easier to find than regular victories. With another loss, the Mariners (67-86) will equal the number of losses from last season. They have
nine games remaining against the Angels, Royals and Athletics.
Seattle had its chances in this game against old friend and former teammate Doug Fister (13-9).
The Mariners grabbed a
1-0 lead off Fister in the first with three consecutive two-out hits, topped off with a Raul Ibañez RBI single.
But rookie James Paxton, who entered the game 2-0 with a 0.75 earned-run average, didn’t quite have his best stuff, while facing a lineup significantly better than Tampa Bay and St. Louis — his only other big league starts.
“They have a great lineup,” Paxton said. “You don’t get any hitters off. You have to grind it out. Those middle-of-the-lineup guys are really talented, and you have to make good pitches to those guys. It was definitely a battle.”
The Tigers erased Seattle’s lead in the bottom of the first. Torii Hunter crushed a fastball to left-center field for a solo homer, and Prince Fielder scored from first on Victor Martinez’s double to left.
The Tigers pushed the lead to 3-1 in the third inning when Paxton issued a bases-loaded walk to Omar Infante on four pitches.
“They really made him work early on,” Wedge said. “He didn’t quite have the same command that we’ve seen him have. But he responded to the work, and he didn’t give in to them.”
Paxton didn’t allow a run in the fourth or fifth innings, and then his day was over.
“It was definitely a battle,” Paxton said. “I didn’t have my best stuff today. You aren’t going to have your best stuff a lot of the times you go out there. You have to be able to battle and get through it, and give your team a chance to win.”
That’s all Wedge asks of his starters.
“In some ways, this start was more impressive than the first two because he didn’t have his best stuff,” Wedge said. “And I thought he was better in the end. I was still very impressed with his performance.”
Paxton’s teammates helped him out with some run support.
Dustin Ackley, who resides just outside Detroit, smacked a three-run homer to right off Fister in the fifth inning to give the Mariners a 4-3 lead. It was his fourth homer of the season.
“He kind of left a change-up middle, middle away, and I was able to make a good swing on it,” Ackley said. “I know that it feels right when I’m up at the plate.”
With Paxton at 95 pitches after five innings and the Mariners wanting to be careful with his workload this late in the season, Wedge had to go to his bullpen.
Tom Wilhelmsen got out of a self-made jam unscathed in the sixth, but in the seventh, he gave up a leadoff double to Hunter. A deep fly ball to right from Miguel Cabrera allowed Hunter to advance to third, and Wedge called on left-hander Charlie Furbush (2-6) to face the lefty-swinging Fielder.
Fielder, who has feasted on Mariners pitching this series, hit the tying RBI single.
Martinez then followed with a double down the left-field line, and Fielder again tried to score from first. Ibañez chased down the ball and made a decent throw to shortstop Carlos Triunfel, who wheeled and threw to catcher Mike Zunino at home. Zunino sidestepped the sliding Fielder and tagged him on the upper shoulder and face, but plate umpire Ron Kulpa called Fielder safe.
“I know I got him; that’s without a question,” Zunino said. “I know I tagged him. But he said he saw his foot get in there. He gets the final say, so that’s all you can do.”
Down 5-4, the Mariners couldn’t mount a rally. Nick Franklin struck out swinging to end the top of the eighth, and Seattle went down in order in the ninth against closer Joaquin Benoit.
After the early trouble, Fister lasted 7† innings, giving up the four runs on nine hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts. He became the fifth Tigers starting pitcher in seven games this season to strike out at least 10 Mariners.
“I thought we did a good job of making him work,” Wedge said. “Fister is so efficient. He trusts his stuff and pounds the zone. He can throw anything, anytime. I tip my cap to him. He went a lot deeper in the game than I thought he was going to.”