My young nephew confounds me, because at times he will exhibit such a bold and brash lack of fear that I worry for his personal safety. There is no body of water he doesn’t want to jump in, weather be damned, and no structure he won’t climb and leap off of; the best place to get anywhere is running at breakneck speed, with no heed for one’s minders or any obstacles that may pop up in his path. Other times, though, he is cautious to the point of frustration. He dislikes activities I see as non-threatening or typical childhood entertainment, like swings, merry-go-rounds, and trying any and all foods that don’t come in dinosaur-shaped form. Trying to figure out what he likes is a little like watching the 2022 Mariners: frustrating in its lack of rhyme or reason, leaving me searching to tie threads together that will never appear.
Let’s get to the point, for those of you who generally skip the first paragraph wind-up: what a bummer of a punchless offensive performance the day after the Mariners finally showed some backbone in a thrilling 8-7 win against the Mets. Today, they alternated between being too tentative with Kikuchi’s pitches and overeager, striking out nine times and taking six—six!—walks, but doing little else on the bases, with just four hits. Once again, they failed to score a single run while Chris Flexen was on the mound, with their only two runs coming after he had departed the ballgame.
I don’t know what the 2022 Mariners have against Chris Flexen this year, especially after he held down the pitching staff last year as the Mariners’ best, and most reliable, pitcher. Perhaps they’re trying to make sure he doesn’t get too Big Baby for his britches, like Lucy pressing down on Linus’s head every time she went past him to keep him from growing taller than her. Maybe it’s a weird attack of senioritis where they just figure they can kick their feet back and mail it in while Flexen, trying to maintain his scholarships, scrambles around doing everyone else’s part in the group project. I don’t know. All I know is that when they said solo home runs don’t beat you, they weren’t talking about Chris Flexen and the 2022 Mariners.
Flexen was again solid today; he had his changeup working well and was able to tempt the aggressive Blue Jays hitters with his offerings, recording a season-high seven strikeouts. He made two mistakes, which resulted in two solo home runs in the first and second innings: one, a fat curveball he hung to Bo Bichette that was truly a terrible pitch; the other, an outer-half fastball to a sub-Mendoza-line-hitting Matt Chapman who redirected it 431 feet. Not ideal, but Flexen has nothing to hang his head about, as there are many positives here to bring into his next outing: the fastball-cutter combination continued to get weak contact and whiffs, and the changeup was fantastic, with a 39% CSW% of the pitch. The curveball wasn’t there for him, which led to some longer at-bats, and he was only able to make it 5.1 innings having thrown 101 pitches. The only two walks he allowed today both reached base in the sixth, and Penn Murfee allowed a little flare hit (.280 xBA) to Raimel Tapia to hang a third run on Flexen for the day before buttoning up the inning from further damage.
The Mariners bullpen would give up another three runs—Wyatt Mills, whose stuff has a lot of horizontal movement, predictably struggled with home plate umpire Mark Wegner’s skinny, tight zone, and allowed two runs on two hits; Roenis Elías, in his first appearance back in the bigs after TJ surgery last spring, got two quick outs but then walked two and allowed another run to score. But it didn’t matter that the bullpen let those runs score, because the Mariners would have lost this game even if Flexen’s original three runs (well, two with an assist from Murfee) were the only runs to score.
Once again, the offense continued to squander run-scoring opportunities. Yusei Kikuchi looked much different from his time as a Mariner; he’s cut out the hesitation in his delivery entirely and works more quickly and directly to the plate, with much less frou-frouing about the edges of the zone. He struck out six and the Mariners managed just one hit off of him, although it was an exciting one: a Jesse Winker double down the RF line, further banishing those platoon split demons, and also breaking up Kikuchi’s no-hitter.
That could have been a big inning: Winker led off with the double, but then Suárez popped out harmlessly. Luis Torrens then worked what has been becoming a specialty for him lately: a long, pitch-count destroying at-bat that ended in a walk. However, Steven Souza Jr. would strike out on four pitches and Dylan Moore flew out to end the inning.
That was one of the innings where the Mariners sent five men or more to the plate; the other one was the seventh, another big potential inning squandered by the Mariners. With one out, Eugenio Suárez hit the 200th home run of his career off Kikuchi replacement Trevor Richards:
NUMBER .— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) May 17, 2022
Eugenio Suárez hits his 200th home run in the big leagues! pic.twitter.com/eE3bSY9VUq
Luis Torrens followed that with, you guessed it, a walk, and then Mike Ford worked a walk, too, forcing Charlie Montoya to go to his bullpen yet again to retrieve Yimi García. That led Servais to reach onto his own bench and—by gawd, that’s Adam Frazier’s music! I was worried that Frazier wouldn’t be available at all this series, but no, he was just taking a little north-of-the-border nap with a lefty on the hill. Frazier woke up from his small snooze and promptly singled, unfortunately not deeply enough to score a run, but still: bases loaded and just one out for Abraham Toro, playing in front of his countrymen. Sounds like a recipe for some fun, right? Wrong. Toro flew out weakly on a García curveball. Okay, but here comes Ty France, and who else would the Mariners want up in this situation than Ty France?
It’s not often you see a dark-blue exit velocity next to a Ty France batted ball, but he pounded García’s sinker into the ground, and unfortunately, any hope of the Mariners winning this game along with it.
The Mariners did add one more run to today’s total with a half-hearted rally in the ninth spurred by a fielding error by Toronto third baseman Santiago Espinal. Adam Frazier singled home Suárez, who had led off the inning when Adam Cimber issued him a walk. That brought up the tandem of Toro and France as the Mariners’ last two outs and suffice it to say, it did not go well; Toro popped out first pitch swinging, and France struck out, an appropriately crushing way to sum up the Mariners’ lackluster offensive effort today. It’s especially frustrating after watching the team come alive yesterday, rapping out 16 hits and stacking runs against the Mets in big innings. I do not understand why this offense teeters between diving headlong and carefree into the deepest pools of run-scoring and other times refuses to take even a single bite of RISP because it’s touching something green. It doesn’t make sense, it tests my patience, and I would like it to just grow up, already.