SEATTLE — Veteran starter Wade LeBlanc made an early exit with a possible oblique injury, the bullpen gave up a pair of grand slams, and the Seattle Mariners dropped a deflating, 10-6, loss to the Houston Astros on Friday night at T-Mobile Park.
LeBlanc worked a quick two outs in the fifth before allowing back-to-back hits to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel, and threw just two pitches to Tyler White before he was removed from the game.
“The last two pitches didn’t feel right,” LeBlanc said, adding the first pitch to White felt strange, and the second was more severe.
Mariners catcher Tom Murphy said he saw LeBlanc tug at something after the first pitch, but LeBlanc signaled he was OK. The second pitch LeBlanc showed much more visible discomfort.
He attempted to deliver a change-up that was well high and outside, grimaced, and came out of his throwing motion grabbing at his right side.
“Obviously the change-up kind of sailed on him,” Murphy said. “The first pitch he didn’t have command of the whole night, so you knew something was wrong.”
LeBlanc was diagnosed with a strained right oblique — an injury that, depending on degree, could keep him out for an extended stretch.
Up to that point, Murphy said LeBlanc’s command was near perfect, apart from giving up a two-run home run to George Springer in the third. LeBlanc completed 4 2/3 innings, allowing the two earned runs on eight hits, and struck out five while walking one. He threw 92 pitches.
“It certainly didn’t look good,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of LeBlanc’s final pitch. “Any time a player grabs his side like that, it’s a concern. I though he threw the ball really well tonight. He was right at the end of his pitch limit there. I was hoping to get him through the fifth. Unfortunately the injury happened.”
Servais said LeBlanc will have an MRI on Saturday to learn more about the severity of injury. If LeBlanc is indeed ruled out for any period of time, the Mariners will likely turn to one of their younger minor-league pitchers to fill in.
“I really don’t know where we’ll go,” Servais said. “We’ll see how severe it is, but I assume Wade probably wouldn’t make his next start based on what happened tonight.”
He said he would speak with Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto about how to move forward Saturday, but a roster move is likely.
Seattle optioned right-hander Erik Swanson, who has been a starter for the Rainiers, back to Tacoma on Friday after one relief appearance. Mariners top prospect Justus Sheffield started Friday night’s game in Tacoma, and appears in the same spot in the Rainiers’ rotation (fourth) as LeBlanc does in Seattle’s.
Both could be seen as possible candidates to fill in depending on the severity of LeBlanc’s injury, but the club had made no decision as of Friday night.
“That’s what the guys in the minor leagues are there for,” Servais said. “You’re never going to get through just with five starters, so you start looking at some other guys and some other options there, and again, give guys opportunity and see who takes it.”
Right-hander Shawn Armstrong, who returned to the Seattle bullpen Friday after recovering from a similar olique injury, worked out of the jam in the fifth, but served up the first of two Houston grand slams the following inning.
Jose Altuve, the 2017 American League MVP, belted the second grand slam of his career to left field in the sixth, giving the Astros a 6-3 lead. He leads Houston with six home runs this season, and is well on track to eclipse the career-high 24 he hit in both 2016 and 2017.
Armstrong, who appeared as a middle reliever for Seattle last season, said he felt healthy in the appearance, but missed on the pitch to Altuve.
“Out of the whole outing, I think that was the only bad pitch that I threw,” he said. “And I threw it to the wrong hitter. He’s really good up there, he’s really aggressive and when you leave a ball middle-middle like that, he’s going to make good contact on it in that situation.”
Two innings later, after the Mariners had cut Houston’s lead to 6-5, Gurriel silenced the crowd by launching a second Astros grand slam to left.
Right-hander Ruben Alaniz, who was making his MLB debut for Seattle, recorded a pair of outs in the eighth before Houston again loaded the bases, and Gurriel pushed the lead to five runs with the fourth grand slam of his career.
Early on, it appeared the Seattle could be headed for its seventh consecutive win.
The Mariners jumped on Houston starter Wade Miley early, forcing him to pump out 41 pitches in the first inning. But, Seattle only scratched across one run, and left the bases loaded.
The Mariners took a 3-0 lead in the second on an RBI single by Domingo Santana — who leads the majors with 22 RBIs — that scored two. But, Miley and Houston’s bullpen combined to retire 18 of Seattle’s next 21 batters — including eight by strikeout.
Seattle managed to cut Houston’s lead to 6-5 in the seventh on a strange series. Dee Gordon led off the inning with a single, stole second, and eventually came around to score on a wild pitch that ricocheted off of the home plate umpire. Mallex Smith swung at the third strike, but reached first as the ball hit the backstop. He eventually came around to score on a groundout by Santana.
“We’ve got a great group of guys that are out there willing to keep the team up, and keep us going,” Murphy said. “I think Dee came right in and was just like, ‘Hey, it’s not over, let’s go.’ That’s huge for us to always have that mentality of keep pressing on, and we always feel like we have a chance.”
But, Gurriel answered with the unlikely second grand slam in the eighth.
Murphy extended Seattle’s home run streak to 16 games with his first long ball of the season in the ninth, but the Mariners couldn’t get closer. Seattle still leads the majors with 37 home runs this season.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (1-0, 4.26), who was pulled after one inning during his last start with viral symptoms, is scheduled to take the mound at 6:10 p.m. Saturday in the second game of Seattle’s series against Houston.
The former Mariners ace will square off against Astros ace right-hander Justin Verlander (1-0, 4.24).
The game will be telecast on Root Sports Northwest, and broadcast on 710-ESPN radio.