With a golden opportunity to complete the first sweep of the year and carry some momentum into a series with the dreadful Chicago White Sox, the Seattle Mariners dropped a winnable game to the Texas Rangers.
After mutilating the Rangers’ bullpen in the first two games of the series, the Mariners couldn’t generate any more late-inning magic. Yet another Mitch Haniger home run brought the Mariners within one in the seventh inning, but they couldn’t quite catch the Rangers, who eluded their grasp all day. Martín Pérez kept the Mariners scoreless through the first four innings, while his offense backed him with four runs.
From a confidence and mindset standpoint, a seven-pitch first inning is probably the exact thing that Pérez needed. He came into the game with a four-digit ERA and had just surrendered seven earned runs to the Tampa Bay Rays. Getting three quick outs against the Mariners’ best hitters had to ease any fear and anxiety he was harboring. His first inning looked like a dad breezing through the local Costco after spending the last few weeks shopping at an unfamiliar grocery store.
The Rangers’ only hard hit ball of the first three innings came off the bat of Adrían Beltré, because of course it did. He hit an asteroid past Kyle Seager, purposefully making life hard for his replacement at Seattle’s third base position. Credit Erasmo for inducing weak contact to the next two hitters, even if the pair of dribblers advanced and scored Beltré.
The crux of today’s early offensive frustration is roster-based. Daniel Vogelbach started against a left-handed pitcher, and predictably struggled. His three strikeouts with runners on base are certainly upsetting, but it’s not like the Mariners have other inspiring options there. Andrew Romine is the ostensible backup first baseman, and I’m not sure starting him supersedes the importance of Vogey getting big league at-bats. If anything, Vogelbach’s whiffs just entertained thoughts about whether Guillermo Heredia can play first base.
All things considered, Erasmo Ramírez was pretty good today. Making his first MLB start since September 27, 2017, pitching on the road in a hitter-friendly park, he allowed just five hits. Unfortunately, four of them were extra base hits, and two of them cleared the fence, totaling five runs for Texas. Limiting home runs is always the concern for finesse pitchers like Ramírez. If he can do that over the course of the season, like he did when throwing 163.1 innings for the 2015 Rays (0.88 HR/9, 10.4 HR/FB %) he can be more than a serviceable option for the Mariners’ fifth starter spot.
Ichiro, undoubtedly reading blogs and @ replies this morning, decided to go 2-for-3 with two walks. That was ... nice of him? Like many of you, I don’t know how to feel about Ichiro. On the micro level, I obviously won’t complain about a Mariner producing positive results that increase the team’s chances of winning a game. On the macro level, every good game from Ichiro leads to creeping feelings about him sticking around. The angel on my left shoulder wants to be excited about him getting on base four times, while the devil on my right shoulder knows that his at-bats should be going to other players.
If I can reference a 24-year-old movie here, this reminds me of a scene in Little Big League. For those unfamiliar with the movie, a pubescent boy assumes ownership of the Minnesota Twins after his grandfather passes away. Upon clashing with the team’s manager, the pubescent boy hires himself to be the Twins’ skipper. Because he is a child, he has an emotional attachment to his favorite player on the team, Jerry Johnson. But the thing is, Jerry Johnson is no longer good at baseball. The pubescent boy understands this, and tries to highlight Johnson’s value by overreacting to every good thing he does, like grounding a base hit through the infield. When this happens, the Twins’ bench coach says, “Kid, don’t you think there’s a problem when you get that excited over a seeing-eye single?”
I think we’ve reached that point with Ichiro. Unless he miraculously starts hitting enough to warrant a spot on the active roster, it’s probably best for both parties if he went the way of Johnson, who SPOILER ALERT: gets released. I feel just as icky about this as you do, but from a practicality standpoint, keeping Ichiro at the expense of Guillermo Heredia doesn’t make much baseball sense.
The other notable bright spot on the day was James Pazos. Coming out of a bullpen that was extremely taxed all series, Pazos provided some valuable length. The sizable southpaw entered in relief of Erasmo and needed just 30 pitches to record eight outs. In doing so, he not only kept the Mariners in the game, but also allowed Scott Servais to rest every reliever who pitched yesterday. Sure, Nick Vincent came in and immediately made everything worse, but over the course of a 162-game season, there is value in limiting pitch counts. Outside of winning the game – which probably would have meant Edwin Díaz pitching one night after hurling a career-high 40 pitches – losing while implementing just two relievers is a pretty good option.
This was a weird game. David Freitas had the most encouraging 0-4 I’ve seen all season. He was robbed a home run and made a nice play as a first baseman. Kyle Seager went hitless in Arlington, and Martín Pérez turned in a quality start in the year 2018. All of those things seem abnormal.
At any rate, the Mariners are still two games above .500 and get three whacks at the White Sox, owners of the worst record in the American League. Losing today is certainly unfulfilling but is no reason to panic.
If things go awry in Chicago, come talk to me.