So, this is what baseball looks like in five years?
The Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros scrapped their starting pitchers and deployed everyone’s favorite new-age baseball strategies – openers and bullpening.
The Astros just did it better, limiting the Mariners offense in a 3-2 victory on Tuesday that began with Nick Vincent and Brad Peacock both starting for the first time this season.
Also, it should be noted that the Mariners defense set a record by turning six double plays in nine innings, and still didn’t win.
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They also got Ross Detwiler to pitch six innings and limit the Astros to three runs in his first MLB appearance since 2016. He was supposed to start for Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday but trekked north on I-5 to Seattle, instead, because Mike Leake was scratched about two hours before the first pitch with an illness.
“With what happened this afternoon, if you would have told me that we were in a 3-2 game late with guys on base and the right guys up we’ll take our chances,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Just didn’t get the big hits tonight.”
An Astros (76-50) pitching pack of Peacock, Framber Valdez (in his major league debut), Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna combined to hold the Mariners (72-55) to two runs on nine hits to maintain their lead over the Mariners atop the American League West at 4.5 games up and remain tied with the A’s.
Seattle went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base.
“We just didn’t get the big hits,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That’s the key is timely hitting. Last night we got the timely hitting and tonight we didn’t.”
The Mariners scored their second run of the game on Ben Gamel’s RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning to cut the Astros’ lead. They had runners on the corners, still, with one out but Astros’ newly acquired reliever Roberto Osuna struck out Nelson Cruz and Dee Gordon.
Cruz was pinch-hitting and didn’t start the game because he was experiencing back spasms in Monday night’s 7-4 Mariners victory.
Maybe openers aren’t completely all the rage now, but wait a few more years until every team is doing this regularly, not just the Tampa Bay Rays.
But on Tuesday night two teams in the thick of the American League playoff hunt and more than 70 wins each to their names went bullpening and deployed “openers.”
So what’s an opener?
It’s the unofficial moniker for a reliever who starts the game, but is only there to pitch the first inning or two before handing off to a pitcher who looks more like an actual starter. Logic says that this gets the team through the best hitters in the lineup with a stronger reliever and allows the “starter” to ease his way into the game against the bottom of the order.
The Mariners went with Vincent for that role, the Astros had Peacock – each making their first “start” of the season.
The Mariners made this their game strategy about two hours before first pitch when Mike Leake was scratched with an illness and left-hander Ross Detwiler was quickly scratched from his scheduled start with Triple-A Tacoma.
He said he used Uber to hit a ride through I-5 and arrived at Safeco Field by 5:30 p.m. for a 7:10 p.m. game.
“It was a pretty quick whirlwind,” Detwiler said. “I got to the field at about 3:30, got called into the office saying get up to Seattle as quick as possible and here we are.”
Not a cheap Uber ride.
“No,” he laughed. “But that doesn’t matter.”
Vincent pitched two scoreless innings and allowed a hit and a walk, though he limped his way into the Mariners dugout after a comebacker struck his foot, though he still ran to the ball on the first-base line and tossed to Ryon Healy for the final out of the second.
Then the 31-year-old Detwiler entered for his first major-league appearance since 2016 with the Athletics, after beginning this season playing indie ball for the York Revolution.
He allowed a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning for an Astros run, a solo home run to Josh Reddick in the fifth and Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single in the sixth, but got out of four consecutive innings with help of double plays.
Detwiler allowed three runs in six innings with two strikeouts and two walks on 76 pitches.
“Found out about a quarter to four today (that Leake wasn’t starting) but that’s what you do as an organization,” Servais said. “You got to scramble and figure out where you’re going to go and you try to come up with some plan and we were able to give ourselves a chance to win the ball game.
“We just needed more offensively.”
The Mariners’ only other run came in the third inning when Kyle Seager struck out with the bases loaded, but Mitch Haniger scored from third on a passed ball.
A few takeaways:
The Mariners’ defense converted double plays in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings to help out Ross Detwiler, which set a Mariners record for most double plays turned in a game.
The previous record was five and the last time the Mariners did that was in 1981 against the Red Sox.
Detwiler pitched six innings and got five double plays behind him.
That’s 122 total double plays turned this year for the Mariners, sixth-most in major-league baseball this season. They were big, too, especially with two on in the third and sixth innings.
The Astros have grounded into 120 double plays this year.
Detwiler was playing indie ball with the York Revolution to start the season, 11 years after he was the No. 6 overall pick by the Washington Nationals.
Then he was through six innings having allowed three runs before handing off to lefty Zach Duke for the ninth inning. He said he received a text after the game from the Mariners scout who signed him out of indie ball, Ross Vecchio, who has been with the club since 2009.
“It’s awesome for him and it’s awesome for the guys who are still down there,” Detwiler said. “It’s a hard road, but it’s still a road. You can take that road and all the hard work paid off this offseason – through indie ball, through Triple-A and here. It’s been a lot of fun.”
He arrived at Cheney Stadium at 3:30 p.m. to start for the Rainiers when he was told to quickly pack his stuff and get to Seattle. He said the rush and getting here at 5:30 for the 7:10 p.m. game didn’t give him time to reflect that this would be his first big-league outing since two years ago with the Oakland Athletics.
“It was nice to be rushed,” Detwiler said. “And then I was out in the bullpen not really knowing what inning I was going in for, so it didn’t let me think at all.”
Detwiler said he got Uber ride to Safeco. Can you imagine that conversation?
Yes, hi – take me to Safeco Field, please. I’m pitching tonight.
The last time Nick Vincent started a game was actually with Double-A Arkansas earlier this year in a rehab outing, but that was just to get his outing over with. The last time he’d pitched more than an inning in a start was back in 2010 with Advanced-A Lake Elsinore of the San Diego Padres system.
Vincent tossed two scoreless innings before handing off to Ross Detwiler, though not before taking a comebacker off his shin. Servais said Vincent was sore but fine.
Meanwhile, the Astros “opened” with right-hander Brad Peacock for the first time this year and he tossed 1 2/3 innings before handing off to 24-year-old Framber Valdez, and his golden Mohawk, for his major-league debut fresh from Triple-A Fresno.
Play of the game
The Mariners had runners at the corners, the tying run at third with one out after Ben Gamel’s RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning and Servais asked Nelson Cruz to pinch hit for catcher Chris Herrmann.
Cruz struck out and so did Dee Gordon after him to end the inning.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa went 3-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and scored a run batting behind Jose Altuve, who was activated off the disabled list earlier in the day.
Jean Segura and Ryon Healy each had two hits for the Mariners.
Ross Detwiler allowed three runs in six innings in his first start in two years in the major leagues, but the Mariners offense couldn’t get the timely hit it needed against left-hander Framber Valdez, the 24-year-old for the Astros making his major-league debut.
Valdez allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings after Brad Peacock pitched the first 1 2/3 innings.
Nick Vincent, in his first major-league start, pitched two scoreless innings.
Scott Servais said he asked Vincent before the game if he’d ever started before.
“Yeah,” Vincent said.
“In the big leagues?” Servais followed.
“No,” Vincent answered.
“Well, you’re about to tonight,” Servais said.
“And he handled it great,” Servais said. “Don’t try to do anything different and he didn’t. He stayed within himself and made pitches.”