Seattle Mariners

How did the Mariners cool off so fast? They faced three of the American League’s top starters

Houston’s Justin Verlander pitches during the third inning. The Seattle Mariners played the Houston Astros in a Major League Baseball game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, April 13, 2019.
Houston’s Justin Verlander pitches during the third inning. The Seattle Mariners played the Houston Astros in a Major League Baseball game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, April 13, 2019. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

As discouraging as the first four games of this homestand may seem to some, Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais sees no reason for panic.

“There will be some great stretches, and there will be some that we struggle a little bit,” Servais said. “That’s just part of it. I’m not at all discouraged.”

Through the first two weeks of the 2019 season, the Mariners rocketed to the best start in club history, and the best record in the majors at 13-2. They returned home Friday night, and lost four straight ahead of Tuesday’s second game against the Cleveland Indians.

Seattle was averaging nearly eight runs per game entering this homestand, but managed just six, one, two and four runs each of the first four outings.

“We made it look easy for a while, but it’s hard,” Servais said.

How did the offense cool off so fast? The starting pitchers for the Houston Astros and Cleveland on Saturday, Sunday and Monday had a lot to do with it. Each of them finished in the top six in the American League Cy Young voting last season.

Saturday, the Mariners drew Astros ace Justin Verlander, who won the Cy Young in 2011, and has six more top-five finishes in his career, including second last season.

Verlander threw a gem against the Mariners, tossing six innings, allowing just one run on two hits. He struck out 11 batters, and walked none.

“I think we had a lot of good at-bats that can go unnoticed with the numbers that he put up,” Mariners first baseman and designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach said. “Nobody went down easy. We made him work for everything.”

Sunday afternoon, Houston’s Gerrit Cole worked another impressive outing against Seattle, completing six innings while allowing two runs on four hits. He matched Verlander, striking out 11 and walking none. Cole finished fifth in last year’s Cy Young voting.

“Those two — Cole and Verlander — are two of the best right-handed pitchers in the game,” Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger said after the Houston series. “It’s always a battle.”

Then came Cleveland’s Bauer on Monday night. He worked through 6 2/3, allowing one run on five hits, struck out eight and walked three.

The Mariners lead the majors in offensive strikeouts with 190, and had double-digit strikeouts each of the first four games of the homestand, but much of the recent lull has been a product of the opposing pitching. Servais said he’s happy with how his players have approached at-bats.

“The approach was good,” Servais said. “The approach always isn’t driven by the walks and the strikeouts. You’re hoping you walk a little bit more, but ... because the quality of the pitching has been better, you might only get one pitch to hit in an at-bat, and it might be one that you take, it might be one that you foul off.

“Whereas, if the guys maybe aren’t as seasoned, or just the quality of the stuff isn’t as good, you might get two, three, four pitches to hit in at-bat. So, if you do foul one off, you’re still OK. As the stuff improves, and the ability of those pitchers to execute their pitches, it gets tougher to hit.”

Servais said Verlander, Cole and Bauer, did well getting ahead of the Mariners in the count, and throwing strikes with both their primary and secondary pitches.

“They’ve all thrown strikes with more than just one pitch,” Servais said. “That’s what it takes to be successful in this league. And they’re not just throwing strikes with more than one pitch, they’re doing it with plus, plus stuff.”

CONGRATS, RUSSELL

Servais offered his congratulations to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who in the wee hours of Tuesday morning announced that he and the Seahawks organization had reached their highly anticipated contract deal.

Wilson signed an unprecedented $140 million contract extension with Seattle, and is expected to remain with the Seahawks for at least the next five seasons.

“He is the highest paid player in the NFL,” Servais said. “Congratulations to Russell, and the Seahawks.”

Servais, a Wisconsin native, was jokingly asked if he thought Wilson is better than Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He smiled, and didn’t directly answer, but noted his excitement for the Seahawks keeping a player of Wilson’s caliber.

“He’s obviously the face of the franchise,” Servais said.

INJURY UPDATES

Left-handed starter Wade LeBlanc was placed on the 10-day injured list Sunday with a Grade 2 strain in his right oblique, but is aiming to return to Seattle’s rotation sooner rather than later.

LeBlanc was initially projected to miss four to six weeks after leaving Friday night’s game against Houston in the fifth inning. He threw 92 pitches, and on his final of the outing, came out of his motion grabbing at his right side.

“I think as he gets moving down the road here to recovery, he’s optimistic it’s maybe not going to be as long as they say,” Servais said. “But, most players are. He’s feeling OK.”

Right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista, who was diagnosed with a Grade 1 pectoral strain near the end of spring training, could begin a minor league rehab assignment in the next week or so, Servais said.

He said Bautista will likely throw another bullpen, and some live batting practice before the assignment.

“We’re starting to push that along a little bit quicker with him,” Servais said.

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