Nelson Cruz twisted his right ankle on the final step heading from the dugout into the batting cage – just after he smoked a two-run home run.
Of all the injuries the Mariners have sustained since the start of last season, continuing into spring training and even through just two games of 2018, manager Scott Servais finally almost lost it.
“I about wanted to throw up,” Servais said. “I don’t know any other way to put it.”
It haunted over the Mariners in their 6-5 loss to the Indians on Saturday at Safeco Field for their first loss of the season. And Cruz’s hot bat — aftering homering for the second consecutive game — would have come in handy when Robinson Cano led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a double.
But Cruz, to the surprise of everyone in the stands, was actually in the clubhouse getting an X-ray on his ankle. So Guillermo pinch hit, flew out to left and Kyle Seager and Ryon Healy each struck out to end the Mariners’ best chance of tying the game.
“I felt bad, I was like, this should be my chance,” Cruz said of being pinch-hit. “But it is what it is. I’ll be fine.”
He was scheduled to get an MRI on the foot as the Mariners determine his availability for Sunday’s afternoon game to finish the series and beyond.
“I couldn’t even walk,” Cruz said.
Never mind that the Mariners had just placed catcher Mike Zunino on the disabled list because he strained his oblique on his final swing during batting practice on Wednesday – one day before the Mariners’ Opening Day.
And after the Mariners were forced to use a club-record 61 different players throughout the 2017 season, while tying a major-league record with 40 pitchers used, they then lost reliever David Phelps with a week remaining in spring training to a season-ending tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.
Erasmo Ramirez is on the disabled list because of a lat strain, Hisashi Iwakuma is recovering from offseason elbow surgery and Ben Gamel from an oblique strain. And just about every player in the Mariners’ lineup missed some time with injuries during spring training, including newly acquired first baseman Ryon Healy needing surgery on his wrist.
Simply put – injuries have been the bane of Servais’ tenure with the Mariners. And their best hitter twisting his ankle on a set of stairs was a bit of a cherry on top.
“Kind of unbelievable with some of the thing we’ve gone through here,” Servais said.
“Our club has just battled through a bunch of nagging injuries here in spring training and then early in the season here.”
All that, and the Mariners still battled back in this one.
It started ugly. James Paxton, coming off a dominant 2017 season, didn’t have his command out the chute and it snowballed into a first-inning grand slam from former Mariner Yonder Alonso.
The big left-hander needed 29 pitches to get through the first inning – including nine pitches against veteran outfielder Rajai Davis with two outs. Davis walked and Alonso followed with the four-RBI dinger.
“I was having trouble finding it today,” Paxton said. “I was working hard to find that rhythm and it just didn’t come. It showed in the results.”
Paxton fell behind in the count against each of the first six batters he faced. He finished having allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings – after only allowing six runs in a game once in 24 starts in 2017.
That season he also didn’t allow his first run of the season until he was 24 innings into it.
But it’s one start, with plenty more ahead.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” Servais said. “He’s healthy, just had an off day.
“I was surprised. We talked about the really top-notch pitchers in this league – you have to get them early. You can’t let them settle in. And Pax just had a hard time settling in there early.”
All six of those runs came on two home runs – from Alonso and Yan Gomes. But it could have been worse if not for 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki looking like he’s 26, again.
Suzuki robbed the Indians’ Jose Ramirez of a sure-homer in the top of the third inning, leaping at the wall in left field to bring it back from over the fence.
“He said, ‘Skip, that’s routine for me,’” Servais said. “I appreciated that. At 44 that wasn’t routine for me.”
Ichiro also got his first hit as a Mariner since July 21, 2012 – with an infield single, no less. Ichiro finished 2-for-4.
“You just shake your head and marvel at the guy,” Servais said. “His at-bats were outstanding.”
Mitch Haniger hit a solo home run in the second inning and the Mariners’ cut that early 4-0 Indians lead to 4-3 in the third when Ichiro, Dee Gordon, Jean Segura and Robinson Cano hit consecutive one-out singles. But the inning ended when Cruz’ hard-hit liner was hit right at Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who doubled up Segura at second base.
Cruz followed with his two-run home run in the sixth inning and the Mariners’ bullpen retired 13 consecutive batters behind Casey Lawrence, Marc Rzepcyznski and Dan Altavilla. But the comeback fell short.
“We played our tails off,” Servais said. “We got down early, Paxton was not sharp … but we hung in there and our at-bats were really good. We had chances, we just didn’t get the one big hit we needed.”
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PAXTON STRUGGLES: His rough day was all set with that grand slam, but a nine-pitch at-bat against veteran outfielder Rajai Davis set the table.
Davis drew the nine-pitch walk with two outs to load the bases for Alonso. Paxton trailed in the count against each of the first six batters he faced.
Paxton struck out the first two batters he faced in the top of the second inning – getting ahead against both of them. It was all about his command.
And in 24 starts last season, Paxton allowed six runs in a game only once – when he allowed seven in a June 21 start against the Rangers.
OLD TIME RELIGION: Ichiro Suzuki looked nothing like the second-oldest player to ever start an Opening Day in MLB history.
Not really at all in this game.
The spry 44-year-old, 10-time All-Star, and 10-time Gold Glove winner showed some of that old form, running, leaping and snatching a for-sure home run from the Indians’ Jose Ramirez in the top of the third inning that sent Safeco Field into a cheering frenzy.
Paxton waited near the dugout when the inning ended to make sure he thanked Ichiro.
“It was huge,” Paxton said. “I was really struggling there and Ichiro made a huge play. It kind of gave me a chance to get going again.”
On if that was just routine for him:
“Of course,” Ichiro said through interpreter Allen Turner.
And Ichiro followed in the next frame with his first hit with the Mariners since July 21, 2012. And it came on an infield single, no less.
Just like old times.
PEN IS MIGHTY: The Mariners’ bullpen, which they believed to be their strength entering the 2018 season, even without set-up man David Phelps (season-ending UCL tear). And it has played like that so far.
Felix Hernandez, though solid, lasted 5 1/3 innings on his 83-pitch count. James Paxton wasn’t limited, but he went 4 2/3 innings, on 104 pitches (60 strikes).
So enter Casey Lawrence, who threw 2 2/3 perfect innings after he earned a spot in the back of the bullpen as a nonroster invitee to spring training. Marc Rzepczynski followed with two outs and Dan Altavilla pitched the final frame for 4 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Those three combined to retire 13 consecutive batters.
This came after Altavilla, Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent, Juan Nicasio and Edwin Diaz combined for 4 2/3 innings out of the bullpen on Thursday, allowing one run on five hits combined (run charged to Vincent).
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