This Seattle Mariners offense scored runs so frugally through July that a night like this to end the month only seemed a fitting end to capture it.
The Mariners’ 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday night at Safeco Field secured their place as the worst run-producing offense of any team in the majors for the month of July.
That’s a problem. The Mariners christened two of their new bullpen arms for the first time with right-hander Sam Tuivailala and Zach Duke making their Mariners debuts, but relief arms aren’t much help when the Mariners only managed to muster runs in the fourth and sixth innings.
“It seemed like our at-bats were better as the game went on,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “But, still, tough to win when you only score two.”
They were trailing 3-2 in the ninth when Duke, who was one of three American League pitchers with at least 30 appearances to not have allowed a home run this season, allowed a two-run home run to Josh Reddick after arriving in Seattle at 2:15 a.m. Tuesday.
That was the second home run the lefty specialist has allowed to a left-handed hitter in the past three seasons.
So the Astros took a 5-2 lead after their 15 hits into the bottom of the ninth – and this was a lineup missing three of its best hitters, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer, to injuries.
The Mariners’ loss sends them to 63-44 and back to four games behind the Astros (68-41) in the American League West and one game ahead of the Oakland Athletics (63-46).
That’s back-to-back nights the Mariners have scored two runs, albeit against tough Astros starting pitching. They averaged 3.35 runs per game in July after averaging at least four runs the previous three months, including 4.74 the opening month. They scored 77 runs in July, with the next-closest team being the Tigers, who scored 83.
The Mariners went 10-13 in the month. The Cleveland Indians scored twice as many runs as the Mariners in July.
“No doubt – we haven’t been able to put big numbers up there,” Servais said. “We’ve had innings here and there but it’s going to take everybody contributing. It’s not just the one guy to go up there and hit the big three-run homer or something like that. Everybody has to keep grinding through it.”
That’s not to take away from Houston’s pitching, with the best starting rotation in the American League.
But this has been a theme for longer than this Astros series.
“When I first got here we were scoring a lot of runs, the offense was moving and I think right now we’re just going through a phase,” said Denard Span, who went 2-for-3 with a triple and has been the least of the Mariners’ offensive concerns. Span is batting .301 (47-for-156) since joining the Mariners from the Rays on May 28.
“Obviously we want to be successful. It’s not like guys aren’t trying hard. Everybody is competing up here and we’re trying hard whether somebody is in scoring position or not. Guys are trying to do their jobs.”
Though, Servais said earlier this week that sometimes the key, especially in baseball, is not trying too hard.
“But we have to continue to find a way to create some more traffic on the bases,” Servais said.
The Mariners did strike first when Jean Segura took Astros starter Charlie Morton yard to lead off the fourth inning. That’s the 13th home run Morton’s allowed in 21 starts this season and the eighth this year for Segura.
The Mariners hadn’t allowed the Astros to score through 13 innings to begin this three-game series after Monday’s shutout.
But speedy Tony Kemp, who took over for Springer in center field in the second inning, led off with a double and then scored on Josh Reddick’s single two batters later to tie it.
Mike Leake had kept the Astros off balance with his mixture of varied arm slots and pitches early, retiring each of the first eight batters he faced before Kemp’s single with two outs in the third.
But the Astros hit him hard in his final two frames. Alex Bregman led off the sixth with a double and Evan Gattis dropped a two-run home run into Edgar’s Cantina past the left-field wall for a 3-1 Astros lead.
“I felt good early, mix and matching and keeping them off balance,” Leake said. “Then I threw a curveball to Gattis that stayed up. I feel like he was just in his zone where he likes to hit balls.”
The Mariners pulled back to within one in the bottom of the sixth when Mitch Haniger’s RBI single (his 69th run batted in of the season) scored Jean Segura from second base).
Nothing else, though.
“Pretty good pitching,” Servais said. “We had a hard time getting anything going against Morton, who is obviously very good. Good sinker, good curveball. And I thought Mike Leake threw the ball really well.”
A few takeaways:
Sam Tuivailala made his Mariners debut – and was thrown into the fire.
The 25-year-old right hander, who was activated Sunday after the Mariners acquired him in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, entered with one out and two runners on in the seventh inning.
He threw his first strike for a 96-mph fastball, and looked fairly effortless doing it. He was coveted by the Mariners for his ability to attack right-handed hitters with velocity.
“I was excited to be out there and get my first one out of the way,” Tuivailala said. “I felt confident out there. It had been a while since I had thrown, but everything felt good. Just was excited.”
Tuivailala needed a big defensive play from right fielder Mitch Haniger when Astros shortstop Alex Bregman lined one of his pitches toward the wall. Haniger tracked it down.
He then got Yuli Gurriel to ground out before returning for the eighth inning. The Astros had runners at the corners after back-to-back singles but Tuivailala induced a 6-4-3 double play to get out of it.
He allowed two hits in his 1 2/3 innings pitched.
“Two-seam was working today, though I shanked a couple sliders and curveballs,” Tuivailala said. “But that’s just going to come with me getting my feel back. I got to look at the video tomorrow to make sure my mechanics were working right.”
Dinger vs. Duke
Zach Duke hadn’t allowed a home run all season – one of three American League pitchers with at least 30 appearances to be able to say that.
It lasted until the third batter he faced in the ninth in his Mariners debut fresh from the Minnesota Twins.
The lefty Duke threw a slider down and in to left-handed Josh Reddick who obliged with a two-run homer into the right-field seats. That’s just the second home run Duke has allowed to a left-handed batter in the past three seasons.
“He just made mistake to Reddick,” Servais said. “I told him afterward if the situation comes up tomorrow, you’re going to get the ball and you’ll probably be facing Reddick again. It’s just baseball.”
Big opportunity for the Mariners, getting to face the Astros without three of their best players.
Reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve was on the disabled list with a knee injury, Carlos Correa is on the DL with a back injury and then center fielder George Springer left after the first inning because of a sore left shoulder.
Springer dived on Denard Span’s line drive and the ball went past him, allowing Span to reach with a triple in the bottom of the first inning. Span was stranded, though, when Nelson Cruz struck out and Springer was pulled from the game..
Play of the game
It was tied, 1-1, in the top of the sixth inning when Mike Leake left a knuckle curveball in the middle of the plate for Evan Gattis.
He responded with his 21st home run of the season for a two-run shot.
Astros All-Star Charlie Morton followed up Gerrit Cole’s dominant outing Monday with eight strikeouts in six innings against the Mariners. He allowed two runs on Jean Segura’s solo home run and Mitch Haniger’s RBI single.
But Mike Leake was solid. He also tossed six innings and allowed three runs on eight hits with four strikeouts, cruising until that homer from Gattis.
Both Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman had three hits for the Astros, who had 15 hits as a team despite George Springer exiting after his first at bat and they were already without Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, who were on the DL.
Evan Gattis went 2-for-5 with the backbreaking 2-run homer in the sixth. Reddick added a two-run homer in the ninth.
While the Mariners’ offense has been the least productive in baseball over the past month, Denard Span has been a bright spot sliding into the third spot in the batting order this past weekend. He’s hitting .301 since joining the Mariners on May 28 and he went 2-for-3 with a triple on Tuesday.
“Denard has probably been through this stretch our most consistent guy,” Servais said. “The quality of at-bats, Denard uses the whole field to hit, doesn’t chase a lot. He got himself into some pretty good counts and he can handle all different kinds of pitching. He’s been definitely our most consistent guy here recently.”