Here’s the first takeaway from a crushing loss the Mariners suffered Saturday night when rookie closer Carson Smith blew a ninth-inning lead in a 3-2 walk-off loss to the Minnesota Twins.
“If we have a lead (Sunday) in the ninth inning,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said, “he’ll be back out there.”
McClendon’s statement represents the latest move that underscores the Mariners’ shift to an evaluation-and-development mode over the final two months after a series of trades just prior to Friday’s nonwaiver deadline.
“The inexperience showed up tonight,” McClendon said. “That’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to learn from these mistakes. He’ll be better as a result of it.”
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Smith (1-5) is learning hard lessons lately. He now has losses in three straight appearances while allowing five runs in a combined one inning. His ERA has jumped from 1.77 to 2.81.
“I was confident,” he insisted. “That wasn’t the (problem). I didn’t have the action I needed today to get the job done. That’s what it comes down to.”
Smith inherited a 2-1 lead to start the ninth inning after a strong start from Mike Montgomery and scoreless innings by relievers Tom Wilhelmsen and Fernando Rodney.
Trouble started immediately.
Miguel Sano rocked Smith’s first pitch into the right-field corner for a double. After Shane Robinson replaced Sano as a pinch-runner, Smith struck out Trevor Plouffe on three pitches.
Smith then threw a wild pitch that moved Robinson to third, which prompted the Mariners to shorten their infield with Torii Hunter at the plate. Smith snagged Hunter’s hopper, held the runner and got the out at first.
An intentional walk to Eddie Rosario put the winning run on base, but set up a right-on-right matchup against Kurt Suzuki.
Another wild pitch foiled the strategy. Robinson scored the tying run, and Rosario moved to second. Rosario stole third without a throw and scored the winning run when Suzuki punched an RBI single through the left side.
Trevor May (7-7), a 2008 graduate of Kelso High School, got the victory after pitching a scoreless ninth for the Twins. Afterward, the attention focused on Smith.
“I’m sure he was a little (over-amped),” Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. “The role he’s in now is huge. … He’s in a big situation, and he’s an emotional fiery guy. Sometimes that energy gets the best of you.”
Smith said everything changed after Sano’s leadoff double.
“You’re always pitching around guys,” he said. “You don’t have the confidence to say, ‘Hey, I can throw the ball for a strike and, hopefully, he doesn’t hit it.’
“I may have been nibbling a little bit with my slider, trying to keep it down. But I think, for the most part, I just didn’t throw strikes, and I didn’t get the job done.”
McClendon attributed Smith’s two previous poor outings to fatigue from overuse. But this was a rested Smith; he hadn’t pitched since Monday.
“His velocity was just fine,” McClendon said. “I think he was just a little too hyped up. He just cranked up some sliders he really pulled. It just wasn’t a good outing.”
And it spoiled some that were.
Nelson Cruz’s 28th homer broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning. He drove a full-count slider from Twins starter Kyle Gibson to center — and it was a bomb: 448 feet off the back of the bullpen wall.
Cruz has seven homers in his last 12 games after getting six in his previous 59 games, which came after hitting 15 in his first 32 games.
That seemed to be enough because Montgomery limited the Twins to one run in six innings before handing a 2-1 lead to Wilhelmsen to start the seventh.
Montgomery allowed four hits, while walking two and striking out six in a 91-pitch effort that lowered his ERA to 3.07. The only run he permitted scored on a wild pitch.
Wilhelmsen pitched around a one-out walk in his inning. Rodney then struck out the top of the order in the eighth. That got the game to Smith.
“I’ve got to learn from it,” Smith said. “Not let it haunt me. I’m going to try to put that one past me and get ready to go tomorrow. How do you learn from this? You’ve got to know you’re capable of getting guys out.
“You’ve got to take the good from the outing. I struck a guy out with a guy on third. I kept my cool. A pitch got away from me and, after that, I’ve got to realize the game is still on the line. I’ve still got a job to do.
“That’s what I’ve got to learn.”
SUNDAY: Seattle (RHP Hisashi Iwakuma: 2-2, 5.10 ERA) at Minnesota (RHP Mike Pelfrey: 5-7, 3.92), 11:10 a.m., Root Sports, 1030-AM, 710-AM