The Mariners needed Yovani Gallardo to stand up and deliver Thursday at Safeco Field.
The four-game winning streak they brought into the afternoon included three victories over the N.L.’s most surprising playoff contenders, the Colorado Rockies. It was the closest the 2017 Mariners have gotten to a roll, and they looked to Gallardo to help maintain momentum.
Gallardo retired the side in the top of the first, and then gave up – taking a deep breath here – a walk, a two-run homer, a ground-rule double, a single and another single. All the sudden the score was 4-0, and though the teams would slog away for more than three hours, the Mariners got so far behind early that whatever they did later didn’t really matter.
Gallardo was projected to be the Mariners’ No. 5 starter before the season, and, sure enough, he is the only member of the original rotation to consistently answer the call of duty through the first two months.
Gallardo is a healthy 31-year old who has won 110 games in the majors, but his record record is 2-6, his ERA is 6.24, and it’s fair to wonder if he’d still be holding down a rotation spot if he were not acquired in a winter trade with the Orioles for outfielder Seth Smith.
“It’s very frustrating,” Gallardo said after the 6-3 defeat to the Rockies. “I have no easy answers. I haven’t done my job this year.”
Gallardo has been guaranteed $11-million this season, and every once in a while the right-hander shows why he was able to command that kind of money. His stuff allows him to go 1-2 on just about any hitter, but when he tries to elevate the fastball for a swing-and-miss strikeout, it’s often bashed.
“He’s frustrated, and we’re frustrated,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You see his stuff – see how he was throwing about 93-94 miles per hour – and I thought his curve ball was actually pretty good.
“But he made a number of mistakes, and they hit a couple of balls out of the ballpark. We needed him to get deep in the game today and he didn’t have it.”
Which brings us to Gallardo’s new teammate Casey Lawrence, who did. Summoned from the bullpen in the top of of the fourth, Lawrence attacked Colorado hitters with first-pitch strikes. A long reliever with starting experience, Lawrence’s mission was to “just eat innings, and get as many outs as I could.”
Working at a quick, no-nonsense pace – he rarely shook off a sign put down by catcher Carlos Ruiz – Lawrence struck out nine, setting a club record for strikeouts in relief.
“He’s kind of got the attitude of ‘just give me the ball, Skip, I’ll go get ’em,” said Servais. “That’s the kind of personality you need for that role.”
Baseball hasn’t come easy for Lawrence. Undrafted out of high school, he pitched four years at Albright College in Pennsylvania – and remained undrafted.
In 2010, Lawrence signed with the Blue Jays, who designated him for assignment May 8.
“I’m here to do what they ask me to do,” said Lawrence. “Relieve, short relieve, long relieve, start ... whatever the manager wants me to do is what I go out there to do. I was always with that old-school mentality: take the ball and compete, execute as many pitches as possible, keep the team in the game.
“I’ve had to work for everything I’ve got, and I think there’s something to be said for taking advantage of every opportunity, because you never know when it’s gonna be the last one.”
Lawrence isn’t the established big-league pitcher Gallardo is. The right-hander is a minimum-wage guy who understands the good fortune of wearing a baseball uniform at work every day.
But on Thursday, it was beyond obvious that Lawrence is better served to start for the Mariners than Gallardo.
And though Servais specifically lauded Lawrence’s effort, the team isn’t ready to reverse their roles, with Lawrence taking the ball every fifth game and consigning Gallardo to mop-up duty.
“We’ve got to get Gallardo back on track, doing what he does, getting us six innings, keeping us in the ballgame,” Servais said. “It just hasn’t happened yet.”
It hasn’t happened yet for Gallardo and it’s June. Not a good sign.