Not quite hidden Wednesday when the Mariners suffered a 4-0 loss to Boston ace Chris Sale, who was dominant, was rookie right-hander Andrew Moore’s continuing problems with the long ball.
Moore surrendered two more homers in his 6 2/3 innings while, otherwise, pitching fairly well. But those two homers accounted for three runs and were the 10th and 11th that he’s allowed in 36 2/3 innings over his six starts.
As noted previously, that’s an unacceptably high rate for any pitcher: roughly 54 for a full season if projected over 30 starts totaling 180 innings.
The major-league record for homers allowed in a season is 50 by Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in 1986 while pitching for Minnesota — in 271 2/3 innings. Project Moore’s total over that workload and it comes to 81 homers.
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Moore gave up one homer Wednesday to rookie Rafael Devers on a 90-mph fastball after falling behind in the count. Sandy Leon’s two-run homer came on a hanging curveball.
"Early on," Moore said, "I was throwing some good (curves), but that one to Leon… I was trying to do too much. Kind of the same situation the (Aaron) Judge pitch last time (in a loss to the Yankees)."
Judge’s homer on a similar hanging curve on July 21 is easy to remember. It’s the blast that broke MLB’s Statcast measuring tool when it nearly exited Safeco Field.
Part of the issue is this: Moore is a command pitcher who relies primarily on a fastball/changeup mix. But virtually every starting pitcher needs at least three pitches to navigate a lineup more than two times.
For Moore, that third pitch is his curve.
It’s his least polished pitch and, occasionally, he hangs it — i.e., he fails to push through the pitch, which reduces its spin. The result is a low-velocity offering with limited break that dangles in the strike zone.
It’s like Christmas for a hitter.
Leon is a journeyman backup catcher with 14 homers in 720 career plate appearances over six seasons. He crushed that hanging curve from Moore. A 2-0 deficit went to 4-0.
"I was trying to make it too good," Moore said, "instead of just trusting the grip and the movement off of it."
Manager Scott Servais sought, again, to characterize Moore’s problems as typical growing pains for a young pitcher.
"I do like the way he is able to make adjustments in game," Servais said. "He’s done that a number of times to stretch out an outing. He doesn’t fold because he gives up a home run.
"He continues to battle and understands how important it is for him to get deep into the game."
All true and not unimportant.
Moore pitched at least six innings in five of his six starts. By working 6 2/3 innings Wednesday, he eased the stress on a bullpen that logged 18 innings over the four previous days.
It’s easy to see why club officials like Moore’s long-term potential.
But Moore has a 5.65 ERA, and the Mariners have lost four of the last five times that he’s started. That one victory came July16 at Chicago when they rallied after Moore exited with the White Sox leading by five runs.
The Mariners (51-52) are trying to mound a postseason push. Those growing pains are biting everyone.
Three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss:
***Sale in top form: The Mariners had no answers for Sale, who allowed three hits while striking out 11 in seven shutout innings. Sale is 13-4 and leads the American League with a 2.37 ERA (and lots of other categories.)
The Mariners’ only hope was the keep the game close, goose Sale’s pitch count and then pounce on the Boston bullpen. They did force Sale to throw 115 pitches in seven innings.
That’s why Leon’s homer was a back-breaker. Down two runs, you get someone on and hope to launch one. Down four runs is a lot tougher.
***Haniger slumping again: Mitch Haniger appeared to be emerging from an extended post-injury slump by producing a couple of two-hit games last weekend against the Yankees.
Haniger is hitless in his last 18 at-bats, and his average is down to .254. He is batting just .200 in 35 games since returning from a 6 1/2-week absence for a strained right oblique muscle.
***Pagan buckles down: Rookie right-handed Emilio Pagan worked himself into a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the eighth inning — and then pulled himself out of it by getting two strikeouts and ground ball.
Pagan has allowed only one run in 19 1/3 innings while registering seven strikeouts over his last seven outings. He continues to solidify his spot in the bullpen.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners