DETROIT - A few hours before Erik Bedard took the mound at Comerica Park to make his fifth start of the season, Mariners manager Eric Wedge spoke with optimism about the progress Bedard had made after missing last season following his third shoulder surgery.
Sure Bedard was winless and his velocity was down and he hadn’t pitched longer than five innings, but Wedge wasn’t about to give up hope the left-hander could still be the pitcher he saw in spring training.
“He’s had a couple extra days off, had some good work days and hopefully he comes out here and pitches like we’ve seen him capable of pitching,” Wedge said.
Wedge’s faith was rewarded as Bedard had his best outing in two years, pitching seven innings, allowing one run on five hits with three strikeouts and no walks, and leading the Mariners to a 10-1 win over the Detroit Tigers.
“I think you have to start with Bedard,” Wedge said. “What we talked about before the game, you saw him go out and do it. He commanded the ballgame. He was aggressive and very efficient, very efficient when you look at his pitch count.”
Indeed, Bedard needed only 88 pitches – 60 of them strikes – to get through seven innings and earn his first win since June 7, 2009.
“They were swinging tonight, so I economized my pitches and got deep into the game,” Bedard said.
The seven innings of work are the most Bedard has thrown this season, and the most in a start since May 5, 2009 when he pitched seven innings against the Texas Rangers.
Wedge didn’t try to get another inning out of him.
“We felt like that was enough for him today just for the fact that it was two more innings than what we’ve seen him throw this year,” Wedge said.
Yet even with all he overcame the past three seasons, Bedard wasn’t overly sentimental about the win.
“It means more to the team,” he said. “That’s what you’re trying to accomplish, getting wins for the team. I’m happier for that.”
It was the Mariners’ sixth win in their last 10 games. And it was the second straight game Seattle reached double figures in hits. The Mariners banged out 11 hits, but it was Justin Smoak’s three-run homer in the first inning that proved the biggest.
The inning had all the signs of a minor disaster. With runners on first and second, Miguel Olivo singled to left. Chone Figgins appeared to score from second sliding around the tag of Alex Avila at home. But home plate umpire Derryl Cousins called Figgins out, though Figgins didn’t know.
“When I went walking by Smoak I was waiting for him to give me a high five,” Figgins said. “And I’m like, ‘why didn’t you give me a high five?’ And he said, ‘he called you out.’”
Figgins and Wedge protested the call to no avail.
Smoak soon made them forget it.
He ripped a 1-0 fastball off Tigers starter Justin Verlander deep to left-center for a three-run homer – his third homer in as many games.
“I was just looking for a fastball to hit,” Smoak said. “He’s got overpowering stuff and throws really hard, so you try not to be late on a heater and I just happened to get one out over the plate.”
It was the first time he’d faced Verlander.
“He’s got good stuff,” Smoak said. “People talk about him for a reason. He’s a good pitcher and you’ve got to go up there every time and just try to battle against him.”
Getting three runs off Verlander in the first inning doesn’t happen often.
Bedard took advantage.
After giving up an RBI double to Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the first, he settled in and allowed just three more hits over the next six innings.
“Just throwing strikes,” he said of his outing. “Throwing strikes with fastball and curveball and trying to get them off balance.”
Still, a 3-1 lead isn’t exactly comfortable.
The Mariners picked up a big insurance run off Verlander in the fifth.
Ichiro Suzuki singled and later advanced to third on Verlander’s throwing error on a pick-off throw.
Olivo, the Mariners’ new clean-up hitter, scored Ichiro with a sacrifice fly to center.
“You’ve got to be able to separate when you get to that point, otherwise you are allowing them to stay in the ballgame,” Wedge said. “I thought our guys did a good job of that.”
The Mariners provided major separation in the ninth inning, scoring five runs and turning the game into a route.
Ichiro and Figgins had RBI singles and Smoak had a two-run single to give him a career high five RBI.
“We had some guys step up, Smoak had a heck of a night tonight and Olivo did again,” Wedge said.
Olivo finished with three hits, and now has five since being moved to the cleanup spot Sunday.