On a night when scoring one run was a chore for the Seattle Mariners, falling behind any more than one run late in the game pretty much meant victory was out of the question.
And unfortunately, Carter Capps couldn’t keep the Mariners within a run. The hard-throwing right-hander gave up a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to Garrett Jones that turned a 2-1 game into a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday at PNCPark.
Jones got a 94 mph fastball over the middle of the plate that he could handle and hit a laser of a line drive into the right field seats. Capps was furious on the mound and still clearly upset postgame. Watching the replays on video with catcher Kelly Shoppach brought little solace.
“I looked at it,” Capps said. “Shoppy said it was middle-in but it looked more middle- middle to me. It can’t happen.”
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It did. And the Mariners were done.
A one-run deficit in the ninth is doable. A three-run deficit was too much to overcome particularly against Pirates closer Jason Grilli and his 0.69 earned run average coming into the game. Grilli retired the side in order with two strikeouts to notch his major league leading 13th save of the season.
“It’s tough to have that late,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of the Jones home run. “You are working hard to keep it a one-run game. You feel if you do keep it a one run game, you have a chance because anything can happen in the ninth inning. Their guy put up a good at-bat, got a good pitch to hit and took care of it.”
Despite Capps’ high velocity on his fastball, both he and Wedge admitted he has to do something different against left-handed batters. In 24 plate appearances, lefties have nine hits off of Capps with three doubles and two homers.
“I think he needs to make some adjustments,” Wedge said. “I know Carl (pitching coach Carl Willis) has talked to Carter about it. We went through the same thing with Pryor a little bit. The league shows what you need to work on and what you need to do. He has some weapons in his arsenal to compete better against left-handers.”
Capps knows what those weapons are and how he has to use them. Capps threw a few breaking pitches to Jones in the at-bat but he could never get a swing and miss with them.
“I need to get them looking for something other than a fastball,” he said. “Right now they are sitting dead red on the fastball and taking uncomfortable swings on everything else. But I didn’t execute with that fastball.”
To be fair, Capps homer didn’t lose the Mariners the game. Even if it had been one run, there was a low chance they would have done something in the ninth based on the previous eight innings.
Seattle did little or nothing against Pirates emergency starter Jeanmar Gomez. Right-hander James McDonald was originally scheduled to start. However, about an hour and half before game time, the Pirates placed McDonald on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and slotted Gomez, a long reliever, in to make his second start of the season.
The Mariners had to scramble at the last second to find scouting reports and some limited video to prepare for Gomez.
“Not much, it was such a last minute switch,” Wedge said of information on Gomez.
The hitters just tried to figure it out as they went, talking to each other after at-bats after looking at the limited info they had on Gomez.
“It’s tough,” said second baseman Dustin Ackley. “Everybody has scouting reports and you have to just go up there and trust what little you know about the guy.”
Gomez pitched well, throwing five shutout innings and allowing just two hits while walking two and striking out five.
“It wasn’t anything crazy,” Ackley said of Gomez’s stuff. “He located things well. Doesn’t matter what kind of stuff you have, if you locate the ball and move it up and down and in and out, you will have success.”
The Mariners played from behind after the first inning. Starter Aaron Harang gave up two runs in the first on an RBI double from Mill Creek native Travis Snider and another RBI double from Andrew McCutchen, who went 4-for-4 in the game.
It looked like Harang might have another gruesome start like he had in Texas earlier this season. But he righted himself and pitched five scoreless innings after that.
“He was really good,” Wedge said. “Those the last three innings in particular – that’s as probably as good as we’ve seen him. He’s starting to put it together. It was nice to see him get it locked in there.”
After being in baseball purgatory coming out of spring training and not pitching in a game till being signed by the Mariners, Harang (1-4) feels a little more normal now that he’s five starts into the season.
“With the three weeks off at the beginning season, I was just trying to find a rhythm,” he said. “We’ve done our work trying to figure things out. Obviously, the last two starts have shown that’s where I need to be at.”
The Mariners lone run came in the seventh. Dustin Ackley came up with a one-out single off of lefty reliever Tony Watson and advanced to second on Kelly Shoppach's ground ball out. With two outs, Wedge called on Jesus Montero to pinch hit for Brendan Ryan. Once Montero was announced, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called on right-hander Jose Contreras to pitch Montero. Wedge then made a counter move and brought in Raul Ibanez to pinch hit for Montero. Ibanez was 9-for-15 in his career against Contreras coming into the game. He improved that to 10-for-16, lacing a double to the gap to score Ackley. But that was all the offense the Mariners mustered. Endy Chavez pinch hit for Harang and grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.
“That was the one inning we had a chance to do something,” Wedge said. “We were going to try and give it every opportunity we could. We got the match-ups we wanted. We pushed it and just came up a little bit short.”