The Mariners had an opportunity to do something fun today: they could have swept their first series of the year, building up some momentum before the buzzsaw of the MechaAstros comes to town. They could have won on a day when no fewer than SIX other MLB games were postponed, allowing them the lion’s share of media attention. They could have won on Jackie Robinson Day, a day that has special meaning for one of their newest, most exciting players:
There's a reason @FlashGjr wears his uniform the way he does—as a tribute to the great "Cool Papa" Bell. pic.twitter.com/AtqSqINzhq— Mariners (@Mariners) April 15, 2018
Instead, the Mariners struggled offensively all day against Sean Manaea, being no-hit into the fifth inning. Their lone run came from Taylor Motter punishing a mistake pitch from Manaea, who cruised on 89 pitches through seven innings thanks to the Mariners’ hitters aggressive approach at the plate. Mike Marjama tried to do his part by walking twice, but the offense just never worked in sync like we’ve seen them when racking up hit after hit.
The good news: Felix Hernandez again turned in a strong outing, his best of the season so far. Things got off to a shaky start in the first when Marcus Semien singled, and then Félix was called for a balk—the first balk called on him since 2012—as he spun around to try to pick off Semien as he broke towards second. It clearly wasn’t a balk and the call was overturned, but Semien was allowed to go back to first instead of being called out as the balk—whether it exists or not—triggers a dead ball. This seemed to rattle Félix a little, and he fell behind Jed Lowrie 3-0 before giving him a fastball middle-in that Lowrie deposited into the seats. After that, Félix locked it down, at one time retiring 13 batters in a row. His fastball never hit above 89 according to ROOT’s tracker, but he skillfully mixed his slider, changeup, and curveball, all of which got even sharper as the game wound on. He struck out 7, usually with the change at the bottom of the zone as the A’s swung right over the top, and worked his way out of any trouble that faced him:
I would run through a wall for Felix pic.twitter.com/RwtKQ9xaPv— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 15, 2018
Happy, pumped-up Félix makes me so happy, you guys.
Today was the day of “pitchers who don’t throw hard,” other than James Pazos, who came in to finish out Felix’s final inning. Chasen Bradford had some work to do after Pazos hit a batter and Motter misplayed a weak grounder, cutting in front of Canó and leaving first base unattended, and then a ground ball sneaked through (shoutout to Heredia, whose strong arm kept the runner at third). With the bases loaded and one out, armed with his 90 mph fastball, Bradford struck out Matt Olson on three high fastballs before getting Matt Chapman to fly out:
That nasty high...non-dairy cheese? Nick Vincent followed and pitched his best inning of the young season, collecting two strikeouts and making the A’s hitters look quite foolish indeed, all while touching 90 mph exactly one time. Velocity counts for more and more these days, but as this pitching lineup shows, it certainly isn’t everything.
Unfortunately, the Mariners offense was all tuckered out from scoring so many runs and wasn’t able to back up this strong pitching performance. As much as it stinks to lose a game that seems like it should have been in reach—especially considering the bizarre balk call—the Mariners still find themselves three games over .500 and without having lost a series headed into the back stretch of the first month of the season. This offense will score runs; we know this. The bigger question is, as always, the pitching. Today provides encouragement that even the non-flamethrowing parts of the pitching staff can help hold down a close game. The next challenge will be putting both phases of the game together against a tough Astros team. Go Mariners.