It was hard not to spiral a bit after last night’s unfortunate events. Losing both James Paxton’s power arm and the joy of the Maple Grove in one fell swoop was as big of a gutpunch as you can get, and topped off with an injury to one of the few productive hitters in Jake Fraley and a moribund 10-4 loss that came fifteen minutes short of lasting four hours, I don’t blame anyone for the bad vibes taking over. It’s early, we all know this, but injuries and piles of strikeouts are never enjoyable to see.
For a long time today, it felt like more of the same. Justin Dunn’s infamous command issues were the worst I had ever seen them, and by the time he left with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, eight free passes had been handed to the White Sox. Look, I like Dunn, his competitive fire, and his seemingly endless ability to work out of jam after jam, but eight walks? Half that number would have been pushing it for today, and it’s nothing short of a miracle he was only charged with three runs. Yeah, one was a ten-pitch at-bat to Jake Lamb in the first where he should have gotten a strikeout on a 1-2 slider, but seven is hardly any better than eight in the walk department.
There were stretches where we saw what he’s capable of, though: the third and fourth innings were things of beauty. Leaning heavily on his curve, he retired the side in order in each of those frames, grabbing a pair of strikeouts and four easily handled balls in play. The curve and slider looked especially sharp, and he made the reigning MVP look foolish in the third with one:
And hey, in the bottom of that frame, the Mariners actually grabbed the lead on a fielder’s choice from Evan White! Granted, they should have gotten more, with old foe Dallas Keuchel not his usual self, but after not having a lead for twenty innings, I’ll take it.
Evan White’s quad, though, did not.
White left the game with left quad tightness according to the team.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) April 7, 2021
Billy Hamilton also left the game with a hamstring issue, and between those two, Fraley, and Tim Anderson, it feels like a lot of guys aren’t fully stretched out this early in the year. Good reminder for all of us! Per Ryan Divish, White is day-to-day, and the club will likely wait until the weird Friday off-day to make a decision on whether he’s IL-bound.
In the top of the fifth, Dunn’s luck finally ran out. He was able to get two pop ups - including one off of Abreu with the bases loaded - but forced in a run anyway thanks to four walks, three of which came on four pitches. Although his breaking pitches were intriguing and the velocity bump was encouraging, if a bit inconsistent, his fastball command was non-existent all afternoon, and the two-run single Will Vest immediately gave up upon relieving him made his final line a lot more reasonable given the struggles. Still, though, he allowed just one hit a double to Luís Robert, and when the White Sox swung, they usually didn’t do much. Today was a pretty yucky start, but I expect Dunn to get at least a few more chances. For all of our sakes, let’s not have an eight-walk outing again.
Vest gave up another run that was all his in the top of the sixth, and at this point, things were looking kind of bleak. Keuchel had settled down, and as new first baseman José Marmolejos stepped in to open the bottom of the frame, faint, futile complaints of roster management and positional depth could be heard in the distance. I love Marmo, but off the bench against a tough lefty? He’d be lucky not to strike out here.
Instead, he worked a walk. And just like that, life was breathed into the Mariners’ offense.
Dylan Moore gorked a blooper into shallow right field and advanced to second thanks to a throwing error by Adam Eaton, and with Marmolejos moving to third, Keuchel’s day was done. Still, though, we saw the White Sox bullpen dismantle the M’s the last two nights, so I was still guarded. Matt Foster was a strong contributor out of the bullpen in 2020, and with the strikeout-prone Tom Murphy and Taylor Trammell due up next, you could say it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see each go down.
You could, but you’d be wrong. Murphy blistered a ball right to third that Jake Lamb couldn’t handle to load the bases, and Trammell jumped all over a hanging first-pitch changeup.
Sam Haggerty, the only starter to not reach base today, went down on three pitches, but that didn’t deter J.P. Crawford. Mired in a rough slump to start the year, he quickly found himself behind in the count once again, a late wave at 95 at the top of the zone putting him at 1-2. Foster threw a changeup off the plate, J.P. threw his bat at it, and good things happened.
Mitch Haniger hit a perfect sacrifice fly to tie the game, and Ty France followed to give what I think may have been the best battle by a Mariner hitter so far. I mean just marvel at this:
He chased exactly one pitch out of the zone, and it was a fastball up that he was able to get a piece of. He might be a work in progress defensively, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this man can hit. Still, I remained trepidatious. Tying was awesome, but with two outs and two lefty-killers in Garrett Crochet and Aaron Bummer still lurking in Chicago’s bullpen, taking the lead might have been asking for too much. Thankfully, Tony La Russa remains washed, and for whatever reason, left Foster in to face Kyle Seager, and it bit him square in the ass just two pitches later.
Between Trammell’s high steps, Crawford’s strut, and France’s majestic slide, this is the highlight of the season for me. The passion! The energy! The camaraderie! All we ask is to be entertained, and that moment delivered and more. Oh, Marmo also joined the parade to put a cherry on a seven-run inning.
Did anyone hear something? Just the wind? Cool.
Kendall Graveman came on to relieve Vest, and unfortunately ran into trouble pretty quickly, sandwiching a single around a pair of walks to load the bases with no outs. I really didn’t want to do this, and neither did J.P. Crawford, who caught a pop up from Zack Collins on the infield fly rule for the first out, and then turned a near-guaranteed two runs from Robert into two outs to wiggle free.
Things were pretty J.P. Smoove after that. No more runs from the Mariners was perfectly fine, and Anthony Misiewicz and Rafael Montero slammed the door in the final two frames, with Montero striking out the White Sox middle of the order with ease. We even got a first Major League win in for Will Vest! Good vibes all around! You would not have convinced me of this three hours ago. Sometimes, all you can do is be along for the ride. The M’s are heading to Minnesota to see old friends Nelson Cruz and Michael Pineda for their next series against a strong AL Central team. It’ll doubtlessly be another tall test for a young, unproven lineup, but games like today show that they’re up for it. It could go pear-shaped pretty quickly. We could be laughing at watching Sam Haggerty pitch the eighth inning on Saturday. But we won’t know until the day comes, so let’s keep the good vibes rolling.