Joe Saunders’ frustrations were evident as manager Eric Wedge told him he was done for the night in the sixth inning. Saunders looked up in the sky in disgust and handed the ball to Wedge without looking, trudging off the mound at ComericaPark. With each step to the first base dugout, that irritation of leaving the game and this forgettable season grew.
When he reached the dugout, Saunders vented that anger on a plastic caddy full of bags of sunflower seeds and a few water bottles and a towel.
Sadly, that might have been the most entertaining aspect of the Mariners’ otherwise non-descript 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
Wedge was satisfied with Saunders’ outing: 5 2/3 innings pitched, three runs allowed on seven hits with three strikeouts and a walk.
“I thought Joe Saunders threw the ball well,” Wedge said. “Against a tough line-up, I thought he did a good job.”
Saunders was obviously not as satisfied. He had no words to describe his frustration after the game. Actually, he had nothing to say. He dressed quickly, gave a quick shake of his head to some a few media waiting and disappeared into the players’ only dining area.
Even if he did feel like talking, judging by his in-game and postgame demeanor, anything he would have said might have been regrettable given his frustration level.
It hasn’t been a fun season for Saunders. With the loss on Monday, he fell to 11-15 on the season. It’s the most losses he’s ever surrendered in a season in his big league career. The 15 losses are second most in all of the American League behind only Lucas Harrell (6-16) of the Astros. Saunders has also allowed 226 hits – most in the AL – in 176 innings pitched.
But Wedge was right, for five innings he kept the Mariners in the game against one of the better hitting teams in the American League.
The innings weren’t always pretty. He gave up two hits in the first inning and Torii Hunter would eventually score on a wild pitch to put the Tigers up 1-0. But Saunders held Detroit scoreless over the next four innings, despite the lead-off hitter reaching in three of those innings.
“I thought he was able to move the ball in and out when he needed to,” said catcher Mike Zunino.
The Mariners even tied the game at 1-1 in the process. Abraham Almonte continued his solid play since his call up, belting a solo homer to right field off of Detroit starter Rick Porcello in the third inning.
“The ball jumps off his bat,” Wedge said. “He’s up there, he’s aggressive. He has some bat speed. He’s a strong young man. He has a lot to offer.”
But Saunders and his start went sideways in the sixth. After getting a strikeout of Austin Jackson and ground ball out from Hunter, he issued a two-out walk to Miguel Cabrera. It’s not the worst thing in the world to walk the best hitter in baseball.
“He can’t hurt you that way,” Zunino said.
However, Prince Fielder flared a slider off the end of his bat into shallow left field for a single and Victor Martinez singled down the first baseline the infield to score Cabrera from second.
“They are professional hitters,” Wedge said. “They are some of the best professional hitters in the game.”
Omar Infante followed with a line drive single to left to score Fielder to make it 3-1. And Wedge had seen enough.
“You want to give (Saunders) every opportunity there because we felt like he did throw the ball well,” Wedge said.
Tom Wilhelmsen ended the inning, getting pinch hitter Don Kelly to ground out to first.
Detroit pushed the lead to 4-1 in the seventh. Alex Avila lined a single off the left of Wilhelmsen, who stayed in game, but later gave up an RBI single to Hunter.
Down 4-1, the Mariners mustered a run in the eighth. Raul Ibanez ripped a two-out double to the wall in left-center and Justin Smoak followed with an RBI single to make it 4-2. But there would be no more offense for the Mariners on a night with little offense, which isn’t new.
“I felt like put up some good at-bats, but we just didn’t get the big hit to take advantage of them,” Wedge said. “We made their starter work hard. We’ve been doing that better lately, making them throw pitches and grinding through at-bats.”
Porcello worked six innings, giving up the one run on five hits with a two walks and 10 strikeouts. It was just the second time in his career he struck out 10 or more batters.
Now 66-84 on the season, Seattle’s march towards 90 losses is steady and ahead of pace. And with the struggles of the last few weeks, there are no sure, or even likely, wins in the final 12 games.
“It’s never easy losing,” Smoak said. “We feel like we’ve been in a lot of tight ball games where we just weren’t able to get the big hit or the big stop when we needed. When you have that chance, you have to do something to get it done.”