After years of the Mariners pushing the “Control the Zone” mentality, it’s been frustrating and a little jarring to watch this team strike out again, and again...and again. Today was no different: Astros starter Hunter Brown is tied for the most swing and misses in baseball tonight, with 17, as he struck out eight hitters in just three innings of work. But that key is three (3) innings: the Mariners hitters, despite striking out a bunch, kept the pressure on Brown from the jump, putting runners on base and running up his pitch count early, getting into the Astros bullpen and ultimately romping to an easy win that featured the Astros throwing a position player against the Mariners in the top of the 8th.
You could be forgiven by being frustrated with how the Mariners began this game, getting runners on but stranding them in each of the first three innings, not just looking the gift horse offered by the Astros in the mouth but kicking it right in the teeth. However, that pressure on the young starter Brown had a cumulative effect: after forcing him to throw 24 pitches in the first, he had to throw 21 in the second, and 17 in the third. The fourth inning would become a hinge point for this game: a quick inning for Brown could have swung the momentum back to the Astros, who scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning on a series of unfortunate events (a double by the nefarious Chas McCormick, a throwing error by Kolten Wong, an infield single from Bregman).
But this is the new-look Mariners offense, who attack pitchers as a team; they may strike out but they will also work a count and make good things happen in the box. Jarred Kelenic opened up the fourth with a lovely oppo single, followed by Mike Ford working a walk. Kolten Wong, whose arrow is pointing up-up-up this month, worked himself into a good hitter’s count and then found some of the luck that’s been eluding him early in the season:
That would tie the game, but the Mariners weren’t done: they kept the gas on, with J.P. Crawford following with a single of his own and a two-run single from Julio to give the Mariners a 3-1 lead and bounce Brown from the game without recording an out in the fourth, making this his shortest start of the season. Phil Maton would strike out Ty France on a curveball, but Teoscar Hernández worked a walk, followed by a fielder’s choice from Cal that stretched the lead to 4-1. Maton then hit Suárez with a pitch, bringing up Kelenic up for a second time in the inning to work a bases-loaded walk and make the lead 5-1.
That brought up Mike Ford, who decided it was time to put this game to bed:
MIKE FORD CLEARS THE BASES pic.twitter.com/woanP22CFe— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) July 8, 2023
But wait, there’s more! Kolten Wong doubled to bring in one more run, making sure the rout was well and truly on. The 2023 Mariners have been doomed often by poor production out of both the second base and DH spots; what a difference a little production there makes.
Of course, part of what helped the Mariners stack those runs is the fact that they were able to keep constant pressure on Brown thanks to a strong start from Luis Castillo. While Brown labored, Castillo breezed through his innings, needing fewer pitches to clear his first two innings than Brown needed in one inning. He did run into that bad bit of luck in the third—partially self-caused by a poorly-located pitch to McCormick for the double—but bounced back to complete seven strong innings. As George Kirby yesterday, Castillo didn’t rack up the strikeouts—just three—but got a ton of weak gorundball outs against the contact-heavy Astros.
Castillo, who finished his day at 89 pitches, probably could have gone another inning, but the Mariners had such a significant lead built up by then that Scott Servais called for Isaiah Campbell to make his big-league debut in front of friends and family at Minute Maid Park. Campbell worked a scoreless inning, ending on his first professional strikeout.
The Mariners would get one more run off a Mike Ford solo shot off position player Bligh Madris, maybe in retaliation for the times our Ivy League Ohtani has had to pitch himself in blowouts, before Tayler Saucedo came on to put the Astros out of their misery. It’s the first back-to-back win for the Mariners in Houston since 2018, and secures a series split, which is key with Astros ace Framber Valdéz taking the mound tomorrow.
It will be very difficult for this team in particular to get much going against Valdéz, but in the war of attrition of a four-game series, you have to like the way the Mariners have positioned themselves in the battle of the bullpens. This team doesn’t make it look easy, or particularly pretty, but somehow over the past couple of weeks they’ve figured out how to be more than the sum of their parts. Here’s hoping they can keep it up going forward.