A day after the Mariners committed three errors behind LHP James Paxton, they went full rake-to-forehead with an 0-for-12 performance with runners in scoring position Sunday in a 4-2, 11-inning loss to the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field.
When Joe Mauer lined a two-run triple off rookie LHP Tyler Olson (1-1) in the 11th, it gave the Twins a 4-2 lead that felt more like 400-2, given the way Seattle’s lineup bungled opportunities. The offense capitulated to the notion by going down 1-2-3 against Twins closer Glen Perkins.
The Mariners dropped two of three to the Twins and to 7-11, four games behind the first-place Houston Astros, whom they face on their upcoming 10-game road trip after they play three against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Seattle finished its nine-game homestand 4-5. They hope this is as bad as it gets for a club many prognosticators felt had the gumption to make a deep playoff run.
“We’re going through a little funk right now,” said center fielder Austin Jackson, who capped an 0-for-5 day by striking out with Dustin Ackley stranded at second base to end the ninth. “It’s so early to really get down on yourself. I think we’ll be alright in the long run.”
Say this: It will be difficult to duplicate Sunday’s performance.
After manager Lloyd McClendon rightfully said pre-game the Mariners needed more from the pitching staff, LHP Roenis Elias performed admirably in his 2015 big-league debut. He was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma Sunday morning to fill Hisashi Iwakuma’s (right lat strain) rotation spot.
Elias struggled with his command in three starts with the Rainiers, where he went 2-0 with 8.04 ERA.
Control was again an issue Sunday. He walked three, hit No. 9 hitter Danny Santana with a pitch in the second and had to depart after 5.2 frames because his pitch count reached 105.
On the flip side, he threw 70 strikes, fanned six and left with the game tied at 2. Trevor Plouffe nicked him for an RBI single in the first, and Mauer smashed a hanging curve ball in the third for an RBI double to stake Minnesota a 2-0 lead. Otherwise, the Cuban defector was more than serviceable. His control improved as the game as went on.
And as a sixth starter, he beats the hell out of what the Mariners had in 2014 with RHP Erasmo Ramirez. Last year as a rookie, Elias went 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA.
“The change up and curve were working really well,” he said through translator Fernando Alcala. “I just have to work on the command of my fastball a little more.”
It was the fifth consecutive game in which starters allowed two runs or less. Since April 17, the group owns a 3.33 ERA with 54 strikeouts over nine games. That’s a positive for a club that boasts no MLB-ready starters available in Triple-A to be called up, should another pitcher go down.
In other words, Elias needs to be successful.
“I was pleased with the way he threw the ball,” McClendon said. “For the most part.”
McClendon didn’t actually get to watch all of Elias’ start from the dugout. He was ejected in the fourth inning by home plate umpire Sean Barber while presumably arguing balls and strikes during a mound visit. It was McClendon’s first ejection of the season and the 30th of his career (25 as a manager).
“I thought he had a strikeout there (in the third inning), they ended up getting a run out of it,” he said afterward.
“It felt good that he went out there to fight for it,” Elias added after getting the no-decision. “Obviously those were close pitches that didn’t go for strikes. He saw what I saw, and it was nice of him to go out there.”
Perhaps the ejection jump-started the Mariners. The next half-inning, RF Seth Smith blasted a solo home run off RHP Kyle Gibson deep into the right field seats to cut the deficit to 2-1. It marked Smith’s first home run in 193 plate appearances and his first of the season.
Gibson then walked Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, and after Kyle Seager followed with a fielder’s choice, Logan Morrison scored Cano with an RBI groundout.
That was all for the offense. Seattle stranded runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings. Seattle left eight on base.
“That’s just not going to get it done,” McClendon said. “It was not a good day from an offensive standpoint.”
During his pre-game session with reporters, McClendon estimated that reliever Tom Wilhelmsen will be back with the club in “10-12 days.” Wilhelmsen was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 13, retroactive to April 11, with a hyperextended right elbow. The plan is for him to play catch from 90 feet, then progress to throwing off the mound on the 10-game road trip . . . Robinson Cano snapped his 11-game hitting streak by going 0-for-3 with two walks . . . Reliever Carson Smith threw a scoreless inning Sunday. He still hasn’t allowed a run in his MLB career, which spans 17 innings over 18 games. The Mariners’ record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a career is 17.2 by Mark Lowe in 2006. Smith’s 18 appearances without giving up a run to start a career is already a club record . . . Sunday’s announced attendance was 35,242.