Of the troubling aspects in the Seattle Mariners’ 10-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night at Safeco Field, one stands above all else.
It wasn’t the 0-for-16 showing from the Mariners’ first four hitters.
And it wasn’t the nine strikeouts or the seven runners left on base.
It was, alas, the thing that will send the perpetually patient Don Wakamatsu into a quiet fury.
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Wak can’t stand walks.
He hates them. He has no use for them or pitchers who issue them frequently. On his list of managerial pet peeves, walks rank at the top.
On Saturday, Mariners pitchers issued 10 walks to Tampa Bay hitters, and of those six ended up scoring runs. The Mariners were a perfect example of why the old adage, “there’s no defense for a walk” gets used daily in baseball.
“You cannot defense walks,” Wakamatsu said. “You talk about playing fundamental baseball and that’s a key one. You have to make them put the ball in play.”
It all started with starting pitcher Ian Snell. The recently acquired Snell was making his Safeco Field debut, and perhaps the adrenaline and the anticipation got the better of him because he simply couldn’t harness his stuff. Snell’s pitches had good movement, good velocity, but he just couldn’t find the command.
In the first inning, he walked the first batter on four pitches. Then things only got worse.
He got an out, but then walked Evan Longoria, gave up an RBI single to Ben Zobrist and then walked the next two hitters, including Pat Burrell with the bases loaded, to force in a run.
When he was finally able to get out of the inning, the Mariners trailed 2-0, and Snell had thrown 42 pitches – most of them fastballs.
“He got trying to force a pitch he didn’t have,” Wakamatsu said. “I think the first inning was 35 fastballs or so out of the 42 he threw. It’s recognizing when you might need to go to another pitch.”
It didn’t get better in the second.
Snell got the first hitter, but then walked Jason Bartlett, gave up a double to Carl Crawford and a run-scoring fielder’s choice to Longoria. He then walked another batter, and Wakamatsu had seen enough, lifting him for Chris Jakubauskas.
“I think this kid has got tremendous stuff, but you have to be able to throw the ball over the plate,” Wakamatsu said.
Snell made it just 1 innings, allowing three runs on two hits and walking six batters.
Indeed, Snell has always has stuff, but harnessing it has been his problem. Wakamatsu is looking to his staff to do for Snell what they did for Jarrod Washburn and others.
“I believe in Rick Adair and John Wetteland, our pitching coaches,” Wakamatsu said. “It might take a little bit of time. The thing you can’t always deal with is a pitcher that doesn’t have quality stuff.”
Jakubauskas did the job by getting a double play to end the inning, and in the bottom of the second, the Mariners tied the game at 3-3 as Franklin Gutierrez swatted a two-run homer to left off Rays starter James Shields. Shields also hurt himself throwing away a pickoff attempt to score another run.
After a rough start, the Mariners (57-53) suddenly found themselves in a new game.
Jakubauskas was solid for the next two innings. But in the fifth inning, he gave up solo homer to Longoria and then issued a walk and served up a two-run homer to Carlos Peña.
“That’s immaturity a little bit,” Wakamatsu said. “But he kept us in the ballgame and gave us a chance.”
The Mariners had that chance in the sixth. Down 6-4, Gutierrez doubled and scored on Michael Saunders’ double to right. The Mariners had runners on second and third with one out, but Ichiro Suzuki and Russell Branyan each grounded out.
“I thought that was a critical point in the ball game,” Wakamatsu said. “The sixth inning was where this game was lost.”
From there, things only got worse for the Mariners. After a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh, reliever Garrett Olson walked the first two hitters to start the eighth. Wakamatsu brought in Sean White, who gave up three straight singles as the lead ballooned to 10-4.
Offensively, the Mariners were led by Gutierrez and Saunders, who had three hits each.