Perhaps overlooked among the heroes of Seattle’s come-from-behind, 11-10 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon might be the group that kept the Mariners’ early deficit from ballooning out of control.
That would be the bullpen.
After starter James Paxton recorded only eight outs and allowed seven runs, the Mariners relied upon lefty Tyler Olson to get them into the fifth, righty Carson Smith to get them into the sixth, righty Dominic Leone to get them through the eighth, and Yoervis Medina to pitch a scoreless ninth inning and keep Texas from adding to a lead that had dwindled to 10-9.
All told, Seattle’s bullpen allowed four hits and three runs in 61/3 innings on Sunday, quieting the Rangers’ bats just well enough to allow Nelson Cruz and the rest of the Mariners’ offense to complete the comeback.
“The bullpen did a nice job for us,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Olson did a nice job for us. He made a couple mistakes, but other than that, he did a nice job.”
Olson allowed three runs in the sixth inning after Elvis Andrus led off with a double, and Shin-Soo Choo and Adam Rosales both hit RBI singles.
But Smith entered the game and coaxed two outs to end that inning, and Leone and Medina kept Texas off the board the rest of the game.
“You want to keep it close, try to have the opportunity for our team to come back like we did,” said Olson, a rookie who pitched collegiately at Gonzaga. “Obviously, your main goal is to have short innings, just to take some of the pressure off the rest of our bullpen.”
After throwing 98 pitches through the first six innings of his Saturday night start against the Rangers, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez had to talk McClendon into letting him pitch the seventh.
McClendon had legitimate concerns about the health of Hernandez’s right quadriceps, which tightened up and caused his early removal from a start against the Oakland Athletics on April 12.
Still, after some debate, the manager allowed Hernandez to pitch the seventh inning, and Hernandez turned that into a wise decision by striking out the side on 13 pitches.
But on Sunday morning, McClendon hinted that perhaps his intent was to let Hernandez pitch the seventh all along.
“I’ll just say this — there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” McClendon said. “Maybe I wanted him to go out there. Maybe I wanted him to think it was his idea. … I was concerned about his leg, but he came through pretty good.”
The 3-1 victory was also accompanied by a laundry list of positives that McClendon rattled off, such as catcher Mike Zunino’s upper-deck home run to left field — he entered the game batting just .121 — and closer Fernando Rodney’s much-needed 1-2-3 ninth inning.
But it all started with Hernandez, who struck out 12 batters and allowed only two hits.
“There were a lot of good things that happened (Saturday). And a lot of that had to do with Felix going out and getting through seven. There’s your answer.”
JACKSON MAKING STRIDES
Cruz wasn’t the only Mariner who homered on Sunday.
Austin Jackson, acquired at last season’s trade deadline and plugged in as the team’s starting center fielder, hit his first home run as a Mariner to lead off the first inning.
It was Jackson’s 11th career leadoff homer, and was the catalyst for a 3 for 5 day at the plate that also included a game-tying RBI single in the ninth after an impressive, eight-pitch at-bat. He reached base four times (including a walk) after going 2 for 3 with a walk on Saturday.
McClendon would like to see his leadoff hitter, who batted .200 through his first nine games, to do that more often.
“That’s the last part of his game that has not come for him,” McClendon said prior to Sunday’s game, referring to his desire for Jackson to draw more walks. “… When he does that, he’s going to be a real good leadoff hitter for us. I see it coming. He’s getting better.”
And after his Sunday performance?
“He’s getting back to the player he once was,” McClendon said.
“Keep grinding, keep listening, keep working. He’s done it in the past, so it’s in there. It’s just the ability to make the adjustments that he needs to make, and the willingness to do it.”
Cruz’s eight home runs are the most hit by a major league player through the first 12 games of a season since Alex Rodriguez hit eight home runs in the New York Yankees’ first 12 games of 2007. And Cruz’s game-winning single Sunday was his seventh career walk-off RBI. … The last time the Mariners overcame a five-run deficit to win was April 27, also against Texas. They were down 5-0 and won the game, 6-5.
The Mariners begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros with a 7:10 p.m. game Monday at Safeco Field. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (0-1, 6.55 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Mariners, with right-hander Asher Wojciechowski (0-1, 4.50 ERA) slated to pitch for the Astros.