DETROIT – Joe Saunders’ frustrations were evident when Marianers manager Eric Wedge told him he was done for the night in the sixth inning.
Saunders looked up to the sky in disgust, handed the ball to Wedge without looking, and trudged off the mound at Comerica Park. With each step to the first base dugout, the irritation of leaving the game and this forgettable season seemed to grow.
When he reached the dugout, Saunders vented his anger on a plastic container full of bags of sunflower seeds, a few water bottles and a towel.
Sadly, that might have been the most entertaining aspect of the Mariners’ otherwise non-descript 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
Wedge was satisfied with Saunders’ outing: 52/3 innings pitched, three runs allowed
on seven hits with three strikeouts and a walk.
“I thought Joe Saunders threw the ball well,” Wedge said. “Against a tough line-up, I thought he did a good job.”
Saunders was not as satisfied. He had no words for reporters to describe his frustration after the game. Actually, he had nothing to say. He dressed quickly, gave a quick shake of his head to a few members of the press waiting and disappeared into the dining area for players only.
It hasn’t been a fun season for Saunders. With the loss on Monday, he fell to 11-15 this season. It’s the most losses in a season he’s ever endured in his major-league career. The 15 losses are second most in all of the American League behind only Lucas Harrell (6-16) of the Astros. Saunders has also allowed 226 hits — most in the AL — in 176 innings.
But Wedge was right, for five innings he kept the Mariners in the game against one of the better hitting teams in the American League.
The innings weren’t always pretty. He gave up two hits in the first inning then Torii Hunter scored on a wild pitch to put the Tigers up 1-0. But Saunders held Detroit scoreless over the next four innings, despite the leadoff hitter reaching in three of those innings.
“I thought he was able to move the ball in and out when he needed to,” said Mariners catcher Mike Zunino.
Seattle even tied the game at 1-all in the third after Abraham Almonte, who has continued his solid play since his call-up, belted a solo homer to right field off Detroit starter Rick Porcello.
“The ball jumps off his bat,” Wedge said. “He’s up there, he’s aggressive. He has some bat speed. He’s a strong young man. He has a lot to offer.”
But Saunders and his start went sideways in the sixth. After getting a strikeout of Austin Jackson and getting Hunter to ground out, Saunders issued a two-out walk to Miguel Cabrera. It’s not the worst thing in the world to walk the best hitter in baseball.
“He can’t hurt you that way,” Zunino said.
However, Prince Fielder flared a slider off the end of his bat into shallow left field for a single and Victor Martinez singled down the first base line to score Cabrera from second.
“They are some of the best professional hitters in the game,” Wedge said
Omar Infante followed with a line-drive single to left to score Fielder to make it 3-1. And Wedge had seen enough.
“You want to give (Saunders) every opportunity there because we felt like he did throw the ball well,” Wedge said.
Tom Wilhelmsen ended the inning, getting pinch-hitter Don Kelly to ground out to first.
Detroit pushed the lead to 4-1 in the seventh. Alex Avila lined an infield single off Wilhelmsen and scored on an RBI single by Hunter later in the inning.
Down 4-1, the Mariners mustered a run in the eighth. Raul Ibañez ripped a two-out double to the wall in left-center field and Justin Smoak followed with an RBI single to make it 4-2. But there would be no more offense for the Mariners this night.
“I felt like (we) put up some good at-bats, but we just didn’t get the big hit to take advantage of them,” Wedge said. “We made their starter work hard. We’ve been doing that better lately, making them throw pitches and grinding through at-bats.”
Porcello worked six innings, giving up the one earned run on five hits with a two walks and 10 strikeouts. It was just the second time in his career he struck out 10 or more batters.
Now 66-84 on the season, the Mariners’ march towards 90 losses is ahead of pace, and with the struggles of the past few weeks, there are no sure wins in their final 12 games.
“It’s never easy losing,” Smoak said. “We feel like we’ve been in a lot of tight ballgames where we just weren’t able to get the big hit or the big stop when we needed. When you have that chance, you have to do something to get it done.”Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish