The Mariners survived a sloppy defensive effort Monday night in holding on to beat the Atlanta Braves. But not Tuesday. Two costly errors helped turn a close game into a 4-0 loss at SunTrust Park.
Third baseman Kyle Seager dropped a throw with two outs in the sixth inning when the Mariners had Ozzie Albies trapped in a rundown between third and home.
"We just didn’t finish the play," manager Scott Servais said. "We dropped the ball. It’s a big-league game. We dropped the ball. You've got to finish the play. We didn’t do it there."
And center fielder Mitch Haniger dropped a routine fly by Brandon Phillips to start the seventh inning. Phillips kept running and turned the botch into a two-base error, and he scored later in the inning.
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It wasn’t just bad defense.
Lefty Marco Gonzales (0-1) failed to last five innings for a fourth straight time since his Aug. 5 promotion from Triple-A Tacoma.
And the Mariners’ attack, for the second time in three games, made a struggling former first-round pick, look like, well, a first-round pick. This time it was Braves right-hander Lucas Sims, the 21st overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft.
Sims (2-3) yielded just three hits over six innings before Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman and Arodys Vizcaino completed the shutout. On Sunday, Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell pitched seven innings in a 3-0 victory.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 64-63 and left them two games behind Minnesota in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
While the Mariners’ attack mustered little, their continued defensive lapses stood out. They overcame four errors Monday in a 6-5 victory over the Braves in the series opener.
"We just haven’t played clean baseball," Servais said. "We can’t make those mistakes on the road and expect to win games. We got through it (Monday) night. It was ugly. But tonight it caught us."
Haniger started in center field because the Mariners, with the designated hitter unavailable in games in National League parks, chose to play Nelson Cruz in right field. Cruz went hitless in four at-bats.
***Segura slumping: When a club gets shut out, it’s generally unfair to point the finger at any particular player. That holds true in Tuesday’s loss. The Mariners had just five hits and were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Even so, it’s worth noting that shortstop Jean Segura is in a 2-for-23 slump over the last five games, which has dropped his average to .308. It’s not a short-term thing, either. Segura is batting .225 over his last 34 games.
***Four-inning Marco: Even by the Mariners’ lenient current standard for starting pitchers, Gonzales continues to overburden the bullpen. He has pitched into the fifth inning, but not through the fifth inning, in all four of his starts.
"We’ve got to get him over the hump in they fifth inning," Servais agreed. "I certainly think his stuff is good enough. I don't think it’s a mental thing at all.
"He’s a young pitcher who has to make some adjustments the third time through the lineup. He’ll get there."
It’s worth remembering that Gonzales missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his elbow. Pitchers typically don’t return to peak performance until their second season back.
***Sacrificing an opportunity: Servais generally hates the sacrifice bunt, which is why it was surprising to see him allow Gonzales to bat after Mike Zunino’s one-out single in the fifth inning. The Mariners trailed 1-0 at the time.
Gonzales was already at 85 pitches and about to head through the Braves’ lineup for a third time. His track record suggested his needle was approaching Elmer. But Gonzales batted and successfully executed the sacrifice.
It didn’t matter. The Mariners failed to score. And Gonzales didn’t make it through the bottom of the inning.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners