A few hours after trading with the Twins to acquire or DH/1B Kendrys Morales to upgrade a slumbering offense, the Mariners made it abundantly clear why his bat is needed with a 4-0 loss to the Orioles Thursday.
The loss was the third in a row for Seattle (53-49) and ninth in its last 13. Seattle, for the first time in nearly two months, finds itself looking up at the Yankees and Blue Jays in the race for the second wild card. Morales joins the team Friday.
Wei-Yin Chen became the latest starting pitcher to have little trouble with the Seattle lineup. Chen (11-3, 3.92 ERA) entered Thursday with a 1.30 WHIP and .286 opponent average. In fact, the Mariners were 2-0 against him in four meetings and fared well against lefties all season (22-13).
None of it mattered. The M’s collected five singles, scattered across eight innings against Chen. One of the base hits came from shortstop Chris Taylor in his major-league debut. In his second at-bat, Taylor delivered a single over the head of Chen.
“I got beat in a little bit, but it was able to squeak up the middle for a hit,” Taylor said.
In his first at-bat, Taylor took aggressive swings on the first two pitches. That first at-bat comes around only once.
“I was just thinking be aggressive, you only get one first big league pitch,” Taylor admitted. “Obviously, there was a little pre-game jitters, and then honestly, once I stepped on the field and got that first ground ball, it all went away.”
Baltimore (56-45), the AL East division leader, scored four runs against Hisashi Iwakuma in the third inning. It was the lone rough inning of the game for Iwakuma (8-5, 3.09 ERA), who was having a terrific July with a 1.57 ERA in 28.2 innings.
“He elevated three pitches. Other than that (Iwakuma) threw pretty good,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Elevated a slider to a pretty good hitter, who knows what to do with hanging sliders.”
After consecutive singles to begin the third, Nick Markakis hit a ground ball to the right side that Corey Hart couldn’t handle in his first start at first base. Instead of an out at second or first, the grounder turned into an RBI single to give Baltimore a 1-0 lead. A couple of pitches later, Delmon Young deposited the hanging slider in the Mariners’ bullpen for the decisive, and final, score of the game.
Excluding the third, Iwakuma was sharp. He retired 18 of 20 batters over the other six innings, while not allowing a base runner past first. He completed seven innings on 96 pitches. Iwakuma allowed seven hits and struck out five. Iwakuma hasn’t walked a batter over his past 35.2 innings. He has walked eight in 110.2 innings.
“In that third inning, he was a little up in the zone,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “I thought after that he did a good job of settling down, working down in the zone and I thought he threw all his pitches well tonight except for that one.”
Chen handed the Mariners their 12th shutout while helping the Orioles win the first of a four-game set and improve to 4-3 on their 10-game road trip. On the other end, Seattle slid to 1-3 on a seven-game homestand. The arrival of Morales can’t come soon enough.
“We’ll just have to keep grinding it out. When you don’t hit, you don’t look good. You look flat and all those things,” said McClendon. “We’ll come out tomorrow, we’ll grind them out and try to get a win.”
Taylor is the fifth Mariners player to make a debut in 2014, joining James Jones, Dominic Leone, Roenis Elias and Stefen Romero . . . With his first-inning stolen base, Jones became the fourth Seattle rookie to record 20 steals. Jones is 20 for 21 in 73 games . . . OF Dustin Ackley extended his hitting streak to seven with a 1-for-3 game. He is hitting .373 in July.