Right now, it doesn’t matter what pitcher the Mariners face. They have become a binary code. Zeroes and ones. Every opposing pitcher looks like a Cy Young Award winner.
The Boston Red Sox summoned left-hander Brian Johnson from Triple-A Pawtucket prior to Saturday’s game at Fenway Park — and he pitched a complete-game shutout in a 6-0 victory over the Mariners.
Johnson had started two previous games in his career and allowed eight runs on 10 hits and seven walks over 9 1/3 innings.
No matter. He dominated the Mariners, who have not scored in their last 20 innings. The Mariners have also lost seven of their last eight games and scored one or no runs in each of their seven losses.
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“This is embarrassing,” designated hitter Nelson Cruz said. “I don’t think we should be in this situation. I understand we have injuries and all that. But there comes a point where you have to turn it around.”
As soon as the game ended, the Red Sox optioned Johnson back to Pawtucket. It amounted to one more laugh at the Mariners.
“Their guy threw the ball over the plate,” manager Scott Servais said. “He threw strikes. I don’t want to take anything away from what he did, but we’re not swinging the bat very well.
“The only way to get out of it is you have to fight, get a little (ticked) off and show up (Sunday) with a little chip on you shoulder.”
That ongoing lack of production represents a growing threat to torpedo the Mariners’ season before they can reassemble their injury-depleted rotation over the next few weeks.
Rookie right-hander Rob Whalen started Saturday for the Mariners. Recalled Wednesday from Triple-A Tacoma, Whalen nearly didn’t survive the first inning when he retired just one of eight batters.
“I felt good warming up,” he said. “I just lost it there in that first inning. I just didn’t have a feel for it. I lost my mechanics, and I was kind of rushing to the plate and dragging the arm a little bit. Left a lot of balls up and in.”
The Red Sox settled for just three runs because they ran into two outs on the bases. Whalen found a groove after that shaky first and permitted nothing more until Jackie Bradley Jr’s two-run homer in the sixth.
Not that it mattered. Three runs in the first were more than enough. One would have been enough. Johnson allowed just five hits, while striking out seven and walking none.
“We haven’t scored a run in a couple of games here in Boston,” Servais said. “Not good. It wasn’t a good ballgame. We’ve got to play better than that.”
Johnson was Mike Zunino’s roommate at Florida when the two were first-round picks in 2012. On Saturday, Zunino went hitless in three at-bats with two strikeouts. Nobody else did much better.
“He had a little more velo then,” Zunino said, “but his breaking ball has gotten better. He didn’t quite have the command that he does now. He was able to throw it for strikes and throw it below the zone.
“And he had enough fastball to move it around the zone.”
The Mariners have lost 12 of their last 16 in falling to 21-29, which is the worst record in the American League. They scored 36 runs in those 16 games.
Come Sunday, the Mariners face Rick Porcello in their bid to avoid a three-game sweep. Note: Porcello won the Cy Young Award a year ago.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Bradley sealed Johnson’s shutout with two fine defensive plays in the ninth inning. First, he charged in for a diving catch on Cruz’s sinking one-out liner.
Bradley then ended the game with a leaping catch on a Kyle Seager drive on the warning track.
PLUS: Guillermo Heredia had two of the Mariners’ five hits… Shortstop Jean Segura made a web-gem defensive play by throwing across his body to retire Andrew Benintendi for the second out in the third inning… Jarrod Dyson had two hits and stole his league-leading 14th base.
MINUS: The Mariners had one at-bat with a runner in scoring position… Robinson Cano and Cruz each went 0-for-4 and are both 0-for-8 in the series… Taylor Motter started in left field and went 0-for-3, which dropped his average to .201.
STAT PACK: Johnson is the first Boston pitcher to throw a shutout in his Fenway Park debut since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. Martinez’s gem also came against the Mariners. He gave up two hits and struck out 12 in a 5-0 victory.
QUOTABLE: “They have good players,” Servais said. “We have good players. Their good players are playing a lot better than our good players are right now.”
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners have scored nine runs in their last eight games… The last time the Mariners suffered back-to-back shutout losses was June 11-12, 2015 at Cleveland (6-0) and at Houston (10-0)… Bradley is 15-for-32 in his career against the Mariners with seven doubles, one triple and four homers… The crowd of 36,985 was the Red Sox’s sixth sellout of the season.
ON DECK: The Mariners and Red Sox conclude their three-game series at 10:35 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Fenway Park.
Right-hander Christian Bergman (1-2 with a 6.30 ERA) will oppose Boston right-hander Rick Porcello (3-5, 4.35).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners