Marco Gonzales pitched magnificently in March and April. Last week, seven starts into his season, the Seattle Mariners ace became the first pitcher in club history to record five wins before May 1.
He said he felt just as comfortable taking the mound for his eighth start Wednesday afternoon at T-Mobile Park, and retired the Chicago Cubs in order in the first inning.
Something changed in the second, he said.
“I felt good coming out,” Gonzales said. “Really, really proud of my routine today. It’s just one of those things. Second inning came out and just felt a little different.”
Suddenly, he felt out of his usual rhythm, fell behind in counts and started pitching through a lot of traffic on the bases.
Gonzales (5-1, 3.28 ERA) was tagged with six runs in the second inning, and dropped his first game of the season as the Mariners lost, 11-0, in a one-hit shutout to wrap up another frustrating homestand.
“It’s just one of those days,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s having a great year. He had a bad day today. They took advantage of it, and we paid the price.”
Seattle (18-15) lost four consecutive games — two to Texas, two to the Cubs — during this six-game stretch at home, and leaves for a grueling 10-game road trip to the East Coast having lost seven of its past nine, and 13 of its past 18.
Wednesday was the third time during the homestand the Mariners allowed double-digit runs.
“A loss is a loss,” Servais said. “(Tuesday) night’s loss hurt. Today we were never really in the ballgame. We’ve got to get back to playing better baseball. That’s the bottom line. I can’t sugarcoat it. We just didn’t play well.”
The trouble started early in the second, when Gonzales served up a leadoff homer to Javier Baez. Three more Cubs singles, three walks and another RBI double by Baez followed.
Gonzales was pulled after throwing just 49 pitches. He worked 1 2/3 innings — the shortest start of his young career — allowing the six runs (three earned) on five hits, walked the three batters and struck out two.
“Marco is who he is,” Servais said. “He’s a strike-thrower, and he’s got four pretty good weapons to go to. Today that wasn’t the case. He wasn’t that sharp.
“Oftentimes when you get going early in the game, you get some easy outs on some balls, and you get a feel for it as the game progresses. You find yourself in a very competitive spot, you get fix, six innings in even when you don’t have your A-game. That just wasn’t the case today.”
Again for the Mariners, the toughest inning wasn’t without its defensive miscues. After the Baez homer, Gonzales gave up back-to-back singles to Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber.
A routine fly ball to left field should have been the first out, but Domingo Santana dropped the ball, and the Cubs loaded the bases. They did most of their damage then, scoring five more runs in the six-run, 12-batter inning.
“They took it to us today,” Servais said. “We didn’t do much offensively, costly error again hurt us. When we’ve made errors, we haven’t just limited the damage to one run. It’s turned into a big crooked number, and it’s been tough for us to overcome.”
Reliever Chasen Bradford ended the troublesome second, but gave up three more runs in his 3 1/3 innings of long relief, including a pair of solo homers to Contreras and Anthony Rizzo in the fourth.
Cory Gearrin pitched a scoreless 1-2-3 inning for the Mariners in the sixth, and newly acquired reliever Mike Wright retired the Cubs in order in both the seventh and eighth.
For the second time during the homestand homestand, the Mariners turned to a position player to pitch the ninth to avoid burning another bullpen arm. Backup catcher Tom Murphy got the call there, and allowed two more runs.
“When you’re a manager, you never want to put a position player in the game to pitch, but you’re trying to manage your team and where we’re at going forward,” Servais said.
The Mariners’ offense managed just one hit against Cubs ace Jon Lester (2-1, 1.73). The Tacoma native and former Bellarmine Prep pitcher was making his first appearance in Seattle since 2014.
He worked seven innings, allowed the one hit to Ryon Healy in the second, and struck out eight while walking just one. He threw 97 pitches.
“That was probably the best my backdoor cutter has been to righties,” Lester said. “I think having the shadows help with that pitch. We were able to kind of exploit that a little bit more than we probably would have on a normal day.
“But, yeah, with probably the exception of the fourth and fifth inning, I felt like I threw the ball really well. Just fell behind a little bit too much, too many long counts. But, was kind of able to rebound in the sixth and seventh there.”
Lester now has a 5-3 record in Seattle with a 3.91 ERA. He’s 7-4 all-time against the Mariners, and has shut them out his past three appearances — twice with the Cubs and once with the A’s.
Chicago right-handers Allen Webster and Dillon Maples each pitched a scoreless inning in relief to complete the shutout.
The Mariners have an off day Thursday before beginning an 11-day, 10-game road trip to Cleveland, New York and Boston.
Rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (1-1, 4.54) is scheduled to pitch the opening game of a three-game series against the Indians at 4:10 p.m. Friday. He will oppose Cleveland right-hander Shane Bieber (2-1, 3.68).
The game will be telecast on Root Sports Northwest, and broadcast on 710-ESPN radio.