Joe Saunders’ first pitch of the night was thrown at 7:10 p.m. About five seconds later, that pitch landed in the seats in left field. At 7:11 p.m., the length of time it took Houston rookie Jonathan Villar to round the bases on his lead-off homer – the first long ball of his career - the Mariners were losing and it would stay that way for the rest of Tuesday night.
Seattle was drubbed 13-2 in a disappointing, uninspiring fashion. They were really never in the game at any point.
It started with Saunders, who made it just three innings, giving up six runs on seven hits.
The Mariners were down 6-1 after three innings. A comeback? Yeah, right.
“That was just a bad day,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Saunders has had few of them in the second half of the season.
In his last 10 starts, Saunders is 2-6 with a 7.33 ERA having given up 41 runs and a whopping 83 hits in 50 1/3 innings pitched. The Mariners are also 3-7 in those last 10 starts. After so much of his success at Safeco Field earlier in the season, Saunders is no longer “Safeco Joe.” He’s 0-4 with a 10.42 ERA in his last four starts in Seattle.
“He’s a great competitor, but you haven’t seen the command,” Wedge said. “You still have the velocity on the fastball. You saw him get some good punch outs on the inside to right-handers, which usually means if you are getting there you are okay. But he has made it difficult for himself, just from going deep in counts and working from behind.”
With the loss, the Mariners now run the risk of being swept by the Astros. But based on past results, this shouldn’t be surprising. This is the third series the Mariners have lost to the Astros this season. Of Houston’s 49 wins, eight have come against the Mariners. That’s not good. By comparison, the A’s are 15-4 and the Rangers are 14-2 against the Astros.
How bad is that? The Mariners called a players’ only postgame meeting to discuss the situation.
They were all to blame in this loss, not just Saunders. It was a lackluster showing from the whole team. The bullpen was shaky, the offense mustered five hits and stranded nine base runners and the Houston combo of Jose Altuve and Jonathan Villar stole five bases. Yes, five, including three swipes of third base
“We have to a better job with the kids up the middle,” Wedge said referring to second baseman Nick Franklin and shortstop Brad Miller. “They have to have a better feel with who’s out there, what they’re trying to do with their leads and the timing and tempo and disrupt that. Also, the pitchers have take responsibility for it too. They’re the ones monitoring the lead when they come to the stretch. Ultimately, it’s that trio that has to handle it right there. Those kids up the middle learned a hard lesson tonight.”
Houston beat up the Mariners’ bullpen scoring two runs off Carter Capps, two off Chance Ruffin and three off of Lucas Luetge as the game turned into a rout.
Wedge’s only positive? The two shutout innings pitched by Tom Wilhelmsen, who didn’t allow a hit or a walk and struck out one batter.
“Wilhelmsen was really good,” Wedge said. “That’s the best we’ve seen him throw in a while. He used all of his pitches. He was really effective. I wanted to get him out of there on a good note. That was good to see. But other than that there really wasn’t much to speak of.”
The Mariners players weren’t speaking too much about the postgame players’ only meeting either.
“It was a collective thing,” Raul Ibanez said. “A couple of the veteran guys got together and we thought it was appropriate. What was said in the meeting was for us exclusively. It's along the line of better performance, really, as a club.”
Ibanez was diplomatic about the idea of players’ effort being questioned.“I don't think it's a lack of effort,” he said. “I think everyone in here comes prepared and works hard in the pregame. I think it's just expecting more from ourselves and what we're capable of and there's an attitude to winning. That attitude has been here at times through spurts throughout this season and I think we're very capable of doing much better than what we're doing right now.”
Seattle’s two runs came off the bat of Franklin Gutierrez, who singled home Ibanez in the second inning and scored Abraham Almonte with an RBI single in the sixth.
But that was all Houston starter Jordan Lyles (7-7) would allow. He struck out five and allowed just four hits to get the win.