The Mariners opened a key road trip with a 5-2 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field Tuesday, a place that has been their house of horrors since 2011. After going winless in Cleveland over the past two seasons, Seattle won the opener of a three-game series thanks largely to the pitching of starter Hisashi Iwakuma and the continued plate prowess of Dustin Ackley.
Looking for a spark, manager Lloyd McClendon shuffled the lineup. The surging Ackley, hitting .375 through 21 games in July, was inserted into the leadoff spot, while Chris Taylor slid into the No. 2 spot and slumping James Jones fell to ninth.
The changes had the desired effect starting in the fourth. Facing another shift to his pull side, Kyle Seager led off by dropping a well-placed bunt down the third-base line for a hit. Indians’ starter Trevor Bauer hit Mike Zunino in the shoulder with a high-and-tight fastball.
Bauer retired Logan Morrison on a line out, but Corey Hart followed with a double down the left-field line, scoring Seager for the game’s first run. After Jones struck out, Ackley and Taylor followed with doubles to extend the lead to 4-0. It was the kind of inning the Mariners lacked in the last 10 games.
Nor were the Mariners done. In the fifth, Mike Zunino hit a laser that cleared the top of the left-field fence for a solo home run. With 16 home runs, Zunino is approaching the club record of 19 for a catcher.
Cleveland got two back against Iwakuma, who entered the game with an 8-0 record and 2.14 ERA in his last 13 road starts, in the fifth. Yan Gomes delivered an RBI single to center that scored Nick Swisher with one out. A double from Chris Dickerson gave the Tribe runners on second and third, but they would come away with only one more run after a Jason Kipnis ground out.
That was as tough as it got for Iwakuma (9-5, 3.06 ERA). He cruised through the sixth and seventh before leaving the game after 99 pitches. Iwakuma allowed two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out six.
The Indians did their best to battle. The Mariners’ right-hander entered the contest having not allowed a walk in 35 innings. While that streak ended at 35.2, his ability to throw strikes had the Indians swinging early in the count.
Seattle improved to 39-10 when it scores four or more runs. Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina pitched a scoreless eighth before handing off to Fernando Rodney to pick up his 29th save with an easy ninth.
The top of the order did its job. The first three hitters combined to go 5-for-13 with two doubles and three RB,I led by Ackley’s three hits. Ackley improved his average to .444 (20-for-45) post-All-Star break.
Barring an unforeseen development, LHP James Paxton will start Saturday against Baltimore when the No. 5 spot in the rotation comes up. Paxton, who has been rehabbing a strained lat muscle since April 8, made three minor-league rehab starts over the past two weeks. His pitch count is up to 80 . . . DH Kendrys Morales batted 0-for-5 to fall to 1-for-15 since being acquired July 24 . . . The four runs in the fourth were the most scored in an inning since four in the sixth inning July 2 versus Houston . . . Ackley has hit in 10 of last 11 games.
I get the feeling that reacquiring Marales is going to blow up in Jack Z.’s face but he’ll make Lloyd stick with him. Morales is going to regret not going thru spring training. When Paxton joins the team they should shut down Elias. Also wondering if at some point Jones should be shut down as well because he seems to have hit a wall.
Figures Ackley would get hot as soon as I publicly wrote him off after defending him 2+ years (and I’m SURE that’s what inspired him), but I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong. There’s just too much talent there.
As for Morales, he’s going to be a major project for Mac because he clearly did not want to return to Seattle and probably feels betrayed by the Twins. Unhappy players are rarely productive. Hopefully he’ll notice that last year’s defeatism is gone in the clubhouse (if not necessarily the stands) and that Mac runs a much tighter ship with more accountability among the players than Wedge did. Kendrys CAN help (if he didn’t lose his ability to swing a bat over the winter), but he’s got to want to help.