More of the Seattle Mariners’ eighth-inning blues.
And this has to leave manager Scott Servais searching for late-inning answers – someone who can get the game to Edwin Diaz with a Mariners lead in the ninth inning.
After Juan Nicasio’s struggled in the set-up role, this time it was Nick Vincent, who induced two outs before a two-out, two-run, broken-bat single to Detroit Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias.
It was a tough pitch – a cutter off the plate away that Iglesias got just enough of with the bases loaded.
But it was enough to beat a quiet Mariners offense – missing No. 3-hitter Robinson Cano and No. 4-hitter Nelson Cruz – and lift the Tigers a 3-2 victory in the four-game series opener on Thursday at Safeco Field.
So what are the Mariners’ eighth-inning answers?
“You try to run guys out there and give them opportunities,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I thought Vinnie was actually throwing the ball pretty good.
“But it’s going to be a combination of guys until we can settle.”
That was Iglesias’ second go-ahead hit against the Mariners in his past two games against them after his walk-off hit on Sunday in Detroit.
The Mariners fell to 24-19 with their second consecutive loss – and fourth loss their past five games against the 20-23 Tigers.
They have a reinforcement on the way with all signs indicating Cruz (bone bruise in right ankle) will return on Friday after being hit by a pitch off of his foot on Tuesday.
And the Mariners’ offense will need him, because this wasn’t all on the bullpen.
They had their best chance in the seventh inning to increase their 2-1 lead when Guillermo Heredia led off with a nine-pitch single before Ben Gamel drew a walk and Gordon Beckham’s sacrifice bunt got them into scoring position with one out.
And top of the order due.
But Dee Gordon struck out and Jean Segura hit a grounder off the end of his bat to first base to end the threat.
The Tigers answered.
“Big, big point in the game,” Servais said. “We didn’t get the runs across and it came back to hurt us. Just struggling right now to really string much together offensively.”
The Mariners lost, 5-1, on Wednesday after a 1-0 win against the Twins on Monday.
“Our guys are battling, but we have to get a little bit more consistent offensively. A lot of easy innings for the other club. We need to grind out at-bats some more.”
Let’s restart, though:
The Mariners managed four hits against Eastside Catholic graduate Matthew Boyd last week in a 4-3 loss in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader in Detroit.
They had five hits in the first three innings this time.
Kyle Seager led off the second with a double lasered to the right-center gap, beating the Tigers’ shift. It looked like he might be stranded there after Ryon Healy and Mike Zunino struck out, but Heredia – two days removed from his walk-off hit in an 11-inning win over the Rangers – followed with an RBI single down the left-field line.
Then Segura led off with a double in the third and scored on Mitch Haniger’s RBI single.
That was Haniger’s 33rd RBI this year. He entered Thursday tied for the ninth-most in the major leagues.
But all that offense early turned into nothing from there on.
And then the Mariners’ defense cost them for the second consecutive game.
Starter Marco Gonzales was looking for his second scoreless six-inning outing of his nine starts this season, and had two outs with runners on the corners with Seager cleanly fielding a ground ball his way.
He’d made plays far more difficult than that all night. But his throw to first hopped in front of Healy, who wasn’t able to pick it as John Hicks scored the unearned run to cut the Mariners’ lead to 2-1 – and they had runners at second and third.
But there was one feel-good story from this one.
Enter right-hander Ryan Cook.
The former All-Star reliever hadn’t stepped onto a major-league mound in almost three years. He spoke before the game about how he wondered if he’d ever pitch again after multiple surgeries and other injuries had kept him rehabbing for so long.
But he hurled a 96-mph fastball for a strike his first pitch to Jose Iglesias with runners at second and third. Three pitches later (all strikes), Cook had another 96-mph fastball to get Iglesias swinging for the strikeout.
What a moment.
“I don’t want to downplay it – it really did mean a lot to me,” Cook said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it and hopefully I can continue to do it and help us as much as I can.”
And he followed that with a 1-2-3 seventh inning in his first big-league appearance since Sept. 16, 2015, when he was with the Boston Red Sox.
A few takeaways:
This is where the Mariners really miss right-hander David Phelps.
Nick Vincent added to Mariners relievers who have struggled in the eighth innings. He had the Tigers with two outs until Mikie Mahtook’s single and Vincent walked James McCann to load the bases.
He threw a cutter off the plate away his second pitch to Jose Iglesias, who sent the two-out, two-run broken-bat single off of diving Jean Segura’s glove into center field.
The Tigers took a 3-2 lead.
Vincent had appeared in five of the Mariners’ past six games, so that certainly didn’t help him, either.
“Going into the game you’re thinking maybe we don’t need to use him, but went to him tonight,” Servais said.
So what are the Mariners’ options?
Vincent had gone nine consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run and he had the second-most holds in the major leagues last season. And Juan Nicasio had led the majors in holds through April this season before hitting his struggles when the calendar turned to May.
Vincent now has a 4.50 ERA and Nicasio’s is at 6.21. This is where the Mariners could have turned to Phelps as their primary set-up man, but Phelps is only a few months removed from Tommy John Surgery.
James Pazos had catapulted himself up the depth chart, but he had pitched three consecutive days entering Thursday and allowed his first run after 14 consecutive scoreless innings before that. And this was a righty-heavy Tigers lineup.
In short: They need Nicasio and Vincent.
“Nick, Juan Nicasio, Cookie, (Dan) Altavilla – those guys really need to step up and grab ahold of it,” Servais said. “It’s not like they aren’t trying. They are. And the stuff is there, we’re just not executing, and, quite frankly, the two-run single in the eighth – it ticks off of Jean Seagura’s glove and you need a lucky bounce every once in a while to go your way and we’re just not getting that right now.”
He wasn’t striking out a career-high nine batters like Eastside Catholic graduate and Mercer Island native Matthew Boyd did for the Detroit Tigers, but Marco Gonzales had one of his better starts of the year.
Gonzales was a throwing error away from matching his six-inning, no runs allowed outing of April 24 against the White Sox. But Kyle Seager’s throw took a hop in front of first baseman Ryon Healy, who wasn’t able to pick it. So the Tigers scored a two-out, unearned run.
That ended Gonzales’ night. His pitch count had crept up and Servais elected for Ryan Cook with runners at second and third.
Gonzales allowed five hits, the one unearned run with two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
“I thought Marco threw the ball really well,” Servais said. “Kind of had them off-balance. Maybe not as good of a curveball as we’ve seen him have, but I thought the fastball had good life on it and stuff was good.”
And, more importantly, seemed to do fine going through the third time in the batting order – something he had struggled with entering the season.
“I think, for me, maybe trying not to think about getting through the lineup a third time,” Gonzales said. “Just remain confident in myself and be able to make pitches like I do in the first three innings. I think it can be a mental downer when you think to yourself, ‘OK, this is the third time through and this is where I fall. Just remain confident and keep my mind right in those situations.”
You’re about to witness a lot less Ben Gamel-Guillermo Heredia platoons in left field.
With Dee Gordon bound for a position switch from center field to second base, that means Guillermo Heredia will spent far more time in center and Ben Gamel will be the regular starter in left field – meaning an outfield of three players were all rookies a season ago.
How have Gamel and Heredia responded?
Heredia went 3-for-4 to increase his season batting average to .296. He drove in the Mariners’ first run with a single off lefty Matthew Boyd to left field.
But Gamel normally against the right-handers, so Heredia will get far fewer platoon subs and his battle against right-hander Buck Farmer in the seventh inning proved why he might be just fine.
He worked a nine-pitch at-bat for a hard single to right field.
Gamel didn’t look so bad, either. He reached base twice a day after his first multi-hit game of the season.
“I thought the at-bats (Heredia) had and Ben Gamel had tonight were really good and good signs for us going forward,” Servais said.
Play of the game
Nick Vincent threw a cutter off the plate and away, but Jose Iglesias got just enough for a broken bat single and just got it by diving Jean Segura’s glove up the middle.
That scored two runs for the Tigers with the bases loaded and two outs and gave them a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning.
But for the second consecutive game, the Mariners’ were beat despite having scored the same number of earned runs as the other team. Kyle Seager’s two-out throwing error and Ryon Healy’s failed pick out of the dirt in the sixth allowed the Tigers to score their first run.
Tigers’ starter Matthew Boyd struck out a career-high nine batters in his six innings (allowing two runs), and Marco Gonzales should have been through six scoreless innings if not for Seager’s error with two outs in the sixth.
But how about Ryan Cook?
The 30-year-old former All-Star in his first big-league outing in almost three years struck out the first batter he saw with runners at second and third with a 96-mph fastball to end the sixth. And then he got three weak-contact outs in the seventh for a flawless, certainly emotional outing.
“I thought Cookie looked outstanding,” Servais said. “He’ll continue to get plenty of opportunities. And it wasn’t soft landing. He hadn’t been in the big leagues in a couple of years and we fire him in there and went right after him. His fastball had really good life and that’s the reports on him from the guys in Tacoma. So that was definitely good to see.”
Jose Iglesias continues to haunt the Mariners. The Tigers’ shortstop and No. 8 hitter went 2-for-4 including the go-ahead two-run, broken-bat single with two outs in the eighth inning.
Who weren’t so great were Ryon Healy (0-for-4 with three strikeouts) and Mike Zunino (0-for-4, three strikeouts). Kyle Seager struck out three times, too, but he also doubled and scored a run.
Mariners manager Scott Servais also didn’t want to downplay how well this young Detroit Tigers team is playing. The Tigers took two-of-three from the Mariners last week, then two-of-three against the Cleveland Indians before taking this series opener.
“Detroit has played us tough,” Servais said. “They are playing good right now and they have a lot of good young players who are out to prove something.
“So confidence is growing with that ball club. Even though they don’t have household names over there, they are playing really well.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677