DETROIT – Injuries put Alex Liddi and Michael Saunders on the Seattle Mariners roster this season, and manager Eric Wedge put them in his lineup Tuesday.
The result was the end of a four-game losing streak, broken at the expense of the Detroit Tigers, 7-4, with big offensive nights from Liddi and Saunders.
Backing the pitching of Jason Vargas, Liddi had a three-hit night that included his first home run of the season, while Saunders had a pair of doubles and three RBI.
When the back end of the Mariners bullpen – Steve Delabar, Tom Wilhelmsen and Brandon League – slammed the door on Detroit, the Mariners opened their trip with a victory.
“We were playing pretty well and then had a bad week at home,” rookie Liddi said. “We didn’t panic. Tonight we put men on base almost every inning and we got them in.”
That last part was the downfall of a 3-6 homestand.
“Last week was tough, some real tough losses,” Wedge said. “Vargas came out and gave us six solid innings and then the bullpen really shut down Detroit the final three innings.
“That said, the offense really stepped it up. We had a good night with men in scoring position, and it’s hard to get over that hump.”
Given 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position, the Mariners delivered on six of those. No one came up bigger than Saunders, the outfielder who came to spring training without a job.
No, his .229 batting average isn’t going to get him many All-Star votes, but against the Tigers, his third-inning double turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 edge.
Then in the ninth, with the Mariners looking for an insurance run, Ichiro Suzuki and Jesus Montero singled, and Casper Wells ran for Montero. With two outs, Saunders doubled again.
Ichiro scored to make it a three-run lead, and though Wells was out at the plate, the hit was clutch.
In relief, Delabar had the seventh inning and League closed Detroit out in the ninth for his sixth save.
The roughest work was done in the eighth inning by Wilhelmsen.
“Yeah, because I gave up hits to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder,” Wilhelmsen deadpanned afterward.
Protecting a 6-4 lead, Wilhelmsen’s inning opened with back-to-back singles to Cabrera and Fielder, then Delmon Young yanked a ball to right field that Ichiro grabbed at the fence.
“That was in the air about two minutes,” Wilhelmsen said.
From there, he struck out Jhonny Peralta on an 3-2 curveball, then blew away Alex Avila on a fastball.
“You’ve got to know you can throw that pitch for a strike there,” Wilhelmsen said of the breaking ball. “That’s my out pitch. I have confidence in it.”
Wedge has confidence in Wilhelmsen.
“He knows what he’s doing out there, but one thing a lot of people don’t know is how tough he is on the mound,” Wedge said. “There’s a lot of fight in there.”
There’s also a lot to like in Liddi, who likely will be in the lineup again today against Tigers left-hander Adam Wilk.
“Over the offseason, Alex shortened his stroke, and he’s gotten more versatile playing first and third base,” Wedge said. “You watch him before game time, he works as hard as anyone on this team.
“He’s earned the time he’s getting.”
It doesn’t hurt, Wedge admitted, that Liddi is batting .368.
After a first-inning infield single, Liddi singled again in the fifth inning, setting up a Seattle run. Against right-handed reliever Collin Balester in the seventh inning, Liddi turned a fastball around, hitting a 402-foot home run.
That will get a manager’s attention.
If the Mariners have opened their season up-and-down en route to their 8-10 record, the Tigers are one team that can identify. After the loss, they’re 10-7 – but 6-7 since opening the year 4-0.
Seattle now has a three-game winner on staff in Vargas, who smoothly worked through Detroit’s lineup with a plan.
“I was going to go right after Cabrera and Fielder with the bases empty,” he said, “and if I faced them with men on base, I’d pitch them differently, show them another approach.
Did it work?
Well, Cabrera walked and hit a solo home run, and Fielder’s only hit against Vargas was a comeback off his leg. Total damage done? One run.
“I got runs early and stayed ahead,” Vargas said. “I attacked the strike zone and we got a win. That’s a good night.”