There have been many nights during the first two months of the season when the Seattle Mariners’ high-flying offense has effectively covered up defensive plights, but Thursday was not one of them.
The Mariners combined for four home runs — including Daniel Vogelbach’s third in as many games on a three-run shot in the eighth — but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Rookie starter Erik Swanson served up a career-high four homers, Seattle’s defense committed a pair of errors in a disastrous fourth inning to push its MLB-leading total to 49, and the Mariners dropped a 11-6 loss to Minnesota at T-Mobile Park.
“Coming into this series I felt there were going to be some runs scored,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Certainly they’ve got a good lineup. Offensively, we have done some things as well as far as hitting the ball out of the park.
“It’s going to be about pitching and defense here the rest of the series. You’ve got to make the plays. Any time you give them extra outs, they put big, crooked numbers up there.”
Making his sixth start of the season, Swanson (1-5, 8.04 ERA) worked through two innings without much trouble, but gave up solo homers to Jason Castro and Max Kepler in the third. The Twins never lost the quick 2-0 lead.
Swanson escaped the inning without further damage, but didn’t record one out in the fourth, and was pulled after allowing hits to five of the six batters he faced. He tossed three-plus innings, allowing eight runs on nine hits with three strikeouts on 64 total pitches.
“A couple of fastballs tonight that just caught too much of the plate,” Swanson said. “Moving forward, I just have to minimize the amount of plate that I’m catching with them, whether that’s throwing a little bit more inside, a little bit more outside, top of the zone, bottom of the zone. Adjustments I need to make moving forward, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
When the Mariners’ (22-24) defense has allowed extra outs this season, pitching woes have tended to follow. Minnesota’s offense exposed all of that in the fourth, sending 13 batters to the plate.
Eddie Rosario led off the inning with a single — the first of four consecutive hits Swanson allowed — and C.J. Cron promptly hammered a two-run homer to left center to push the lead to 4-1.
Marwin Gonzalez singled and Miguel Sano doubled, creating more traffic on base, and prompting Seattle’s second mound visit in two frames. But, the inning only got worse.
Castro sent a sharp grounder down the first-base line at Edwin Encarnacion, but instead of stepping on the base for the inning’s first out, Encarnacion tried to throw down Gonzalez at home. Catcher Omar Narvaez couldn’t handle the throw, and likely wouldn’t have had time to apply the tag anyway, and Encarnacion was charged with the first of two Mariners errors in the inning.
Swanson then fell behind Byron Buxton, who crushed a 2-1 fastball for a three-run homer to straightaway center field. Swanson, who has allowed five or more runs in four of his six starts — including a combined 15 earned runs in his past two starts — was removed without recording an out.
Servais did recognize Swanson’s ability to continue to go after hitters despite allowing the nine hits. Swanson’s next start is projected for Tuesday in Texas.
“He’s in a spot here we brought him up, and he’s had some good starts,” Servais said. “He’s had some patches that have been very good, very impressive, you say hey this guy’s got a bright future ahead of him. But, the consistency is the big thing. We’ll talk about it here in the next few days, and see where he’s at going forward.”
The Twins sent seven more batters to the plate in the fourth inning to face Mariners rookie reliever Parker Markel.
Markel hit Kepler with a pitch to begin his appearance, but helped complete a 7-1-4 play when Jorge Polanco attempted to stretch a single for the first out of the inning. Markel then struck out Jonathan Schoop for the second out.
The third out should have come during the next at-bat, when Rosario hit a routine fly ball to center. But, Mallex Smith, in his first game back from a two-week stint in Triple-A where he was working on both his offense and defense, lost his handle on it. Kepler scored to push the lead to 9-1.
Markel, who threw 31 pitches, faced an extra three batters in the inning, allowing another single and a walk before finally ending the inning with a groundout.
Markel and Swanson combined for 52 pitches and seven runs allowed in the top of the fourth, which lasted nearly 30 minutes.
“The fourth inning got away from us obviously,” Servais said. “I think we gave them six outs in that inning, and that really turned the game. You can’t give a team like that that many free outs.”
The Mariners used four more relievers to record their final 15 outs. Right-handers Connor Sadzeck (two innings) and Anthony Swarzak (one) recorded nine consecutive outs. Zac Rosscup gave up another run on a two-out RBI single by Polanco in the eighth. Mike Wright allowed a run in the ninth on a one-out RBI double by Sano.
Former Mariners starter Michael Pineda (3-3, 5.55) did enough to earn his first win for the Twins since mid April, completing seven innings while allowing three runs on five hits and striking out six on 91 total pitches. Pineda had lost his previous three decisions.
The three runs Pineda allowed each came from solo homers. Smith, who was hitless in his final 24 at-bats before being optioned to Tacoma, sent his second home run of the season to center in his first plate appearance in the third.
Ryon Healy and J.P. Crawford then went back-to-back in the fifth to cut into Minnesota’s lead. It was the fourth time Seattle, which leads the majors with 87 homers, has hit back-to-back homers this season. Healy’s was his seventh of the season, Crawford’s was his first.
Vogelbach crunched his 12th homer of the season — which is tied for the team lead — to right center in the eighth, after Mitch Haniger doubled and Encarnacion singled with one out to make it 10-6. But, the Mariners never got closer.
Mariners ace Marco Gonzales (5-2, 3.18) is scheduled to oppose Minnesota left-hander Martin Perez (5-1, 3.11) in the second game of the series.
First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports Northwest and 710 ESPN radio.