Remember the product the Seattle Mariners put on the field back in April? They were piling up home runs against opposing starters, and their pitching staff was stringing together some quality outings. The start was surprising for a club entering a step-back season, and though it all came crashing down a month later, the Mariners were loose, and getting results.
Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against Kansas City was reminiscent of that hot start. Another historic winning streak isn’t too likely to follow, but the progress Seattle showed in an 8-2 thumping of the Royals was at least encouraging.
“Marco (Gonzales) pitching well and we’re hitting homers. That’s a good formula for us,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Nice bounce-back game today. The guys weren’t real happy with how we played the last couple days. You could feel it in the clubhouse when you came in this morning, and we responded.”
Gonzales (7-7, 4.38 ERA) delivered his third consecutive quality start — and win — after a run of six losses sent him reeling during May and early June.
Two weeks removed from swapping from left field to right on defense, Domingo Santana continued to show how that move has helped his bat, crushing a pair of homers in a game for the second time during a 14-game stretch.
After Santana launched a three-run homer with no outs in the first, Daniel Vogelbach promptly followed with a solo shot to boost his Home Run Derby campaign, giving Seattle back-to-back homers for the eighth time this season. And, eight of Seattle’s nine starters logged at least one hit off Kansas City starter Brad Keller, to build a six-run lead by the fourth inning.
It seemed more free, and enjoyable, for a club that hasn’t been able to piece together back-to-back wins for more than five weeks.
“I don’t know what the actual numbers are this year, but when you score first, your chances of winning the ballgame go up dramatically,” Servais said. “It was key to jump out there early, Marco did a nice job to kind of stabilize the game for us and let the offense get going, which is huge.”
Gonzales set the tone early in front of an announced crowd of 16,228 at T-Mobile Park, allowing two earned runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out five, and tallied 96 pitches.
The Royals scratched across runs against Gonzales twice, but were held scoreless for a long stretch in between. He faced more than four batters in an inning just once, and worked into the seventh inning for his second straight outing.
He said his ability to command all of his pitches, finding consistency in his mechanics, and being able to adjust his game plan as needed and give hitters different looks has helped him dig out of a disappointing May.
“That’s the pitcher that I want to be,” Gonzales said. “I don’t want to show the same guy twice. I think something that’s overlooked with me is my ability to kind of adapt and adjust. Hopefully the past couple starts have kind of shown that I can bring a different thing every game.”
Gonzales said he has tried to simplify his approach after getting too complicated on the mound in a handful of starts, and has started to see positive results.
“He got a little bumpy there in May, and was struggling on a few things, but he’s cleaned it up,” Servais said. “Very aggressive again, pitching both sides of the plate. Seeing him pitch the top of the zone a little bit more, which I think is helping him. The hitters don’t just have one area of the strike zone to lock in on.”
Billy Hamilton drew a leadoff walk in the third, and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice for Kansas City’s first run, but Gonzales didn’t allow another until the seventh, when Cam Gallagher’s two-out double drove in Jorge Bonifacio.
Cory Gearrin recorded the final out of the seventh without further damage after Gonzales was pulled, and Anthony Bass and Roenis Elias each worked scoreless innings to close out the win.
Seattle’s offense jumped on Keller (3-9, 4.45) from the first at-bat. Mallex Smith doubled, J.P. Crawford walked and Santana sent his first homer of the game 399 feet to left center. Vogelbach’s 394-foot smash off made it 4-0 before Kansas City recorded an out.
“It’s always nice to score first,” Santana said. “It’s not really good to just play catch-up all the time. It’s always good to get a lead early. It helps our pitching staff settle down a little bit.”
The Mariners tacked on three more runs in the fourth. Dylan Moore led off the inning with a single, and Smith was hit by a pitch before Crawford pitched in an RBI single. Santana singled to move Crawford to third, and Vogelbach hit a deep sacrifice fly to left to score Crawford.
“You want to be consistent in how you score runs,” Servais said. “Certainly we were very reliant on the home run early. A lot of those guys that were banging the ball over the fence aren’t with us anymore. But, the guys that are in the lineup have the ability to put the ball in play, and we can run the bases when we’re out there too.”
Keller was pulled after throwing a season-low four innings, allowing the seven earned runs on nine hits, while walking two and striking out five on 95 pitches. The seven runs he allowed were a season-high, and this marked the first time this season he’d allowed multiple home runs in a game. He’d allowed just four homers this season in 15 previous starts before the Mariners launched two in the first inning.
Santana hit his 15th homer of the season on a 399-foot solo shot in the sixth, hitting two long balls in a game for the third time this season and sixth time in his career. He finished with a season-high five RBIs. Vogelbach leads the club with 18 homers, and Seattle is still hitting home runs at an impressive clip. The three Wednesday brings their season total to 136, which ranks second in the majors behind the Twins, who have 138.