DETROIT - For stretches of this young season, the idea of the Seattle Mariners sweeping a team - any team - seemed downright absurd.
But for three days in Detroit, the Mariners were a smooth-running machine, complete with solid pitching and plenty of hitting.
The Mariners reached double digits in hits for the third game in a row on Thursday and rolled to a 7-2 win over the Detroit Tigers, sweeping the three-game series and improving to 11-15.
It was the Mariners’ first three-game sweep since June 18-20, when they took three from the Cincinnati Reds at Safeco Field. The last time the Mariners swept a three-game series on the road was April 10-12, 2009, against Oakland. It’s the Mariners’ first sweep of the Tigers since July 29-31, 2003, and the first sweep in Detroit since May 16-18, 2003.
“They’re a good baseball team,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of the 12-13 Tigers. “It’s tough to sweep another major league team and even that much tougher on the road. But we came in here, our starting pitchers gave us great effort, we had some timely hitting and that was really the difference.”
The starting pitching was scintillating, capped by rookie sensation Michael Pineda, who allowed two runs in six innings while striking out nine and walking three to pick up his fourth win of April – a Mariners rookie record.
“He did a great job of controlling the ballgame, mixed his pitches well,” Wedge said. “It was a cold and windy day and he handled the elements well.”
Everyone knew the kid had talent, but to be 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA in his first five starts? At age 22?
“He’s unbelievable,” said catcher Miguel Olivo. “He’s one of the top pitchers in the league right now.”
Pineda said he wasn’t expecting all this early success.
“I’m a little surprised,” he said. “It’s pretty good. I’m 22 years old and got four wins in the big leagues. But I’m working for this. I’m working all the time to be a great pitcher on the mound.”
Pineda looked great from the outset. He struck out the side in the first inning on just 12 pitches.
But things got a little difficult in the second inning. After striking out the dangerous Miguel Cabrera, Pineda gave up a double to Brennan Boesch and walked Ryan Raburn. Alex Avila followed with a looping double to right to score both runners and give Detroit a 2-0 lead.
“The first inning I was pretty good,” Pineda said. “My fastball was down and my slider was pretty good. But the second inning I was a little open.”
Pineda meant his left shoulder was staying open on his delivery, causing him to leave pitches up in the zone. He came out in the third inning determined to keep the shoulder closed and the ball down. He did, allowing two hits in his last four innings.
“He’s learning,” Olivo said. “He follows me and is talking to Felix (Hernandez) and all those guys. He’s a good learner. The minute he gets everything together, he’s going to be really, really dangerous.”
Pineda used a slider to finish off a nine-pitch battle with Cabrera in the second inning.
“He’s one of the best hitters in the game,” Wedge said. “You talk about having to work to get someone out. He’s as tough as anybody. And Michael didn’t give in to him.”
Pineda grinned while talking about Cabrera.
“I threw the ball down and threw my slider down,” he said. “No mistakes, because he has a lot of power and is a pretty good hitter.”
In the third inning, Pineda froze Magglio Ordoñez with a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner that couldn’t have been placed any better.
“I was thinking that first strikeout on him was a slider,” Pineda said. “And the second time, I said he was thinking about me throwing a slider now, but I threw a fastball on the corner. It was pretty good. I thought, ‘No swing? Nice.’”
And now that the Mariners have become an offensive juggernaut – at least against the Tigers – run support wasn’t an issue.
Seattle erased the two-run deficit immediately.
Michael Saunders and Jack Wilson led off the third with back-to-back singles off Tigers starter Brad Penny. Saunders scored on Ichiro Suzuki’s single to center, and Wilson scored on Chone Figgins’ fielder’s choice grounder.
The Mariners took the lead for good in the fourth. Justin Smoak continued his torrid run, ripping a run-scoring double deep to center. The ball short-hopped the wall at 420 feet as Smoak narrowly missed hitting his fourth homer in four games. He settled for a double and extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
Seattle pushed the lead to 4-2 when Olivo ripped a solo homer to left. Like their previous two wins, the Mariners broke the game open against Detroit’s suspect bullpen.
Luis Rodriguez, making his first start in five days, ripped three-run homer to right field off Ryan Perry to put the game out of reach.
Wedge isn’t ready to christen his team an offensive powerhouse, but he likes what he has seen lately.
“It just doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes with these guys. You baby step in the right direction, you put up better at-bats, make more productive outs and then you start to see some results. And that’s what I think you’re seeing.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners