Lousy first pitch, then it gets worse for Mariners

Staff writerSeptember 11, 2013 

Joe Saunders’ first pitch was thrown at 7:10 p.m. About five seconds later, that pitch landed in the seats in left field. At 7:11 p.m., the length of time it took Houston rookie Jonathan Villar to round the bases after his leadoff homer – the first long ball of his career – the Mariners were losing and it would stay that way for the rest of Tuesday night.

Seattle was drubbed, 13-2, in disappointing, uninspiring fashion. They were never in the game at any point.

It started with Saunders, who made it three innings, giving up six runs on seven hits.

The Mariners were down 6-1 after three innings. A comeback? Yeah, right.

“That was just a bad day,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.

Saunders has had a few of them in the second half of the season.

In his past 10 starts, Saunders is 2-6 with a 7.33 ERA, allowing 41 earned runs and a whopping 83 hits in 50 innings. The Mariners are 3-7 in those 10 starts. After so much success at Safeco Field earlier in the season, Saunders is no longer “Safeco Joe.” He’s 0-4 with a 10.42 ERA in his past four starts in Seattle.

“He’s a great competitor, but you haven’t seen the command,” Wedge said. “You still have the velocity on the fastball. You saw him get some good punchouts on the inside to right-handers, which usually means if you are getting there, you are OK. But he has made it difficult for himself, just from going deep in counts and working from behind.”

The Mariners run the risk of being swept by the Astros when they pay Wednesday. This is the third series the Mariners have lost to the Astros this season. Of Houston’s 49 wins, eight have come against the Mariners. By comparison, the A’s are 15-4 and the Rangers are 14-2 against the Astros.

How bad is that? The Mariners called a players-only postgame meeting.

They were all to blame in this loss, not just Saunders. The bullpen was shaky, the offense mustered five hits and stranded nine runners and the Houston combo of Jose Altuve and Villar stole five bases. Yes, five, including three swipes of third base

“We have to a better job with the kids up the middle,” Wedge said, referring to second baseman Nick Franklin and shortstop Brad Miller. “They have to have a better feel with who’s out there, what they’re trying to do with their leads and the timing and tempo, and disrupt that. Also, the pitchers have to take responsibility for it, too. They’re the ones monitoring the lead when they come to the stretch. Ultimately, it’s that trio that has to handle it right there. Those kids up the middle learned a hard lesson tonight.”

Houston beat up the Mariners’ bullpen, scoring two runs off Carter Capps, two off Chance Ruffin and three off Lucas Luetge as the game turned into a rout.

Wedge’s positive? The two shutout innings pitched by Tom Wilhelmsen, who didn’t allow a hit or a walk and struck out one batter.

“Wilhelmsen was really good,” Wedge said. “That’s the best we’ve seen him throw in a while. He used all of his pitches. He was really effective. I wanted to get him out of there on a good note. That was good to see. But other than that, there really wasn’t much to speak of.”

Mariners players weren’t speaking too much about the postgame players-only meeting, either.

“It was a collective thing,” Raul Ibañez said. “A couple of the veteran guys got together and we thought it was appropriate. What was said in the meeting was for us exclusively. It’s along the line of better performance, really, as a club.”

Ibañez was diplomatic about the idea of players’ effort being questioned.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of effort,” he said. “I think everyone in here comes prepared and works hard in the pregame. I think it’s just expecting more from ourselves and what we’re capable of and there’s an attitude to winning. That attitude has been here at times through spurts throughout this season and I think we’re very capable of doing much better than what we’re doing right now.”

Seattle’s two runs came off the bat of Franklin Gutierrez, who singled home Ibañez in the second inning and scored Abraham Almonte with an RBI single in the sixth.

But that was all Houston starter Jordan Lyles (7-7) would allow. In six innings, he struck out five and allowed four hits and one earned run to get the win.

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners

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