SEATTLE – Roenis Elias pitched well enough to help the Mariners win on Sunday, throwing far better in his 2015 big-league debut than he had in spring training, or in his first three starts this season at Triple-A Tacoma.
And, unlike the self-inflicted failure that led to Saturday night’s loss, the Mariners made it through this entire game without committing an error. That rates as news for a team that had already committed 14 through its first 17 games.
So consider it particularly disheartening, then, that this 11-inning, 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Safeco Field had more to do with Seattle’s inability to drive in baserunners – and there were plenty of those – than anything else.
“We played decent baseball,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, who was ejected in the top of the fourth inning for arguing with home-plate umpire Sean Barber. “We just didn’t get hits when it counted. ... It was not a good day from an offensive standpoint.”
Not even close. The Mariners (7-11) batted 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position – they stranded six such runners throughout the game – and had legitimate chances to score in the fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings.
But they failed to score each time, and Joe Mauer’s two-run triple with two outs in the 11th inning off Mariners reliever Tyler Olson provided the separation the Twins needed.
Minnesota (8-10) had runners on first and second when Mauer came to the plate with two outs in the 11th. Olson tried to throw him a slider away. Instead, he threw him a slider over the plate, a pitch Mauer slapped past right-fielder Nelson Cruz to drive in both runners and cap a 3-for-5 day that also included an RBI double in the third.
“I got ahead in the count,” Olson said, “and I just left it over the heart of the plate.”
The Mariners could have won the game in the bottom of the ninth, when Dustin Ackley led off with a single and moved to second base on Brad Miller’s sacrifice bunt. But Rickie Weeks, pinch-hitting for catcher Jesus Sucre, struck out looking. And Austin Jackson struck out swinging to end the inning.
The eighth inning provided hope of a breakthrough, too. It began with a double by Seth Smith that chased Twins starter Kyle Gibson, and pinch-runner Justin Ruggiano moved to third base on Robinson Cano’s subsequent groundout. Twins reliever Aaron Thompson walked Nelson Cruz intentionally with one out. Then Kyle Seager struck out and Logan Morrison flew out to center field.
So, Smith’s solo homer to left field and Logan Morrison’s RBI groundout in the fourth inning stood as Seattle’s only offense.
“They’re making good pitches in tough situations,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to give those guys credit. They did a good job. They got a timely hit when they needed it.”
Elias mostly gave the Mariners what they needed, too, pitching 5 2/3 innings in place of the injured Hisashi Iwakuma. Called up yesterday from Triple-A, the left-hander allowed a run in the first and another in the third, but settled down thereafter.
He threw 105 pitches (and 70 strikes), struck out six and walked three, and exited after issuing a two-out walk to Twins catcher Chris Herrmann in the sixth.
Elias said his command, which had been an issue since the beginning of spring training, “was a lot better. Obviously, it was my fourth start, so I was a little more into my rhythm, the way I want to pitch. The changeup and the curveball were working really well. I just have to work on the command of my fastball a little more.”
McClendon said he thought Elias was robbed of a third-strike call that led to Minnesota’s run in the third inning – the genesis of the manager’s eventual ejection – and that “I was pleased with the way he threw the ball, for the most part.”
The Mariners just didn’t swing their bats well enough to help him out.
“That’s always frustrating,” Jackson said. “But I think you take the positive out of it – you know you’re getting the guys out there, and eventually, we’ll start getting them in.”
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple