BY John Hickey 04:01PM 04/28/2011

Pineda fans nine en route to fourth win

Right-hander becomes first Mariner rookie starter with four April wins after Thursday’s 7-2 victory over Detroit.

Michael Pineda is the first Mariner rookie with four April wins after beating Tigers Thursday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Looking back on it now, it’s hard to believe that there was much question that right-handed rookie Michael Pineda should make the Seattle starting rotation.

True, he’d only had about half a season at Triple-A last year. But he’s been a winner everywhere he’s pitched – a 31-14 record and 2.49 ERA in the minor leagues and never a losing record – and that has to count for something.

And he’s a winner with Seattle. Pineda put on another power-tinged show Thursday afternoon in Comerica Park, striking out the first four batters he faced and striking out a career-best nine in six innings in leading Seattle to a 7-2 win over the Detroit Tigers.

Perhaps as impressive as anything was his final pitch of the game; he blew a 96-mph fastball past Detroit catcher Alex Avila on his 101st pitch.

“I love the way he finished things of there in the sixth,’’ manager Eric Wedge said. “He really had to bear down at the end. He did a great job of controlling the ball game, mixed his pitches well on cold and windy day out there.’’

It was all of that – a game that started at 49 degrees with winds gusting from 18-40 mph. Pineda never lost his focus en route to the win and a 4-1 record. He’s the first Mariner rookie to get four wins in April, and the first Seattle rookie to get four wins in any month since 1999 when Freddy Garcia did it.

Pineda struck out Tiger DH Magglio Ordonez twice and first baseman Miguel Cabrera, the most dangerous hitter in the Detroit lineup, once. Cabrera, as would be the case with Avila later, couldn’t handle a 96-mph heater.

“He (Cabrera) is one of the best in the game,’’ Wedge said. “Talk about having to work to get somebody out. He is as tough as anybody, and Michael didn’t give in.’’

Pineda was all smiles afterward when the media asked him about that showdown with Cabrera.

“He’s a pretty good hitter,’’ Pineda said. “I’m focused and threw the ball down – my slider down. No mistakes, because he has a lot of power.’’

You know who else has a lot of power? The Mariners, as it turns out, at least for this one series.

Miguel Olivo hit his second homer of the season and of the series, a solo shot in the sixth inning to push Seattle’s lead at the time from 3-2 to 4-2. And in the eighth, backup infielder Luis Rodriguez added a three-run homer that put the game and the series sweep on ice.

In all, the Mariners hit five home runs in the series, which is borderline amazing after Seattle had gone deep just twice in its first 10 games on the road. Even at that, Seattle still has more home runs in power-stingy Safeco Field (nine) than on the road (seven) after having played 13 games at home and 13 games on the road.

It wasn’t just a game of power however; it was a game of hitting with men on base, starting with right fielder Ichiro Suzuki’s RBI double for the Mariners’ first run in the third after Seattle was in a 2-0 hole. Chone Figgins followed with a grounder that scored Jack Wilson from third base, tying the score.

An inning later, Olivo singled and Justin Smoak unloaded a 420-double into the most cavernous part of Comerica’s right-center field gap. Then it was time for Olivo’s homer in the sixth off start Brad Penny and Rodriguez’s eighth-inning homer off Ryan Perry after the reliever had walked Milton Bradley and Adam Kennedy.

“The hitters are moving in the right direction,’’ Wedge said. “It just doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of work that goes on with these guys. They’re ultimately putting together better at-bats, then you see results. That’s what you’re seeing now.’’

Yeah, just a little. The Mariners had 35 hits and a .188 batting average with men in scoring position in their first 23 games. Then in three days in Detroit, the Mariners had 12 hits in 29 at-bats (.414) with runners at second and third.

NOTES: Wilson got a start at second base but had to leave the game after five innings. Wedge said after the game that Wilson had right eye irritation and may have scratched the eye. There’s no telling if Wilson will be ready to play Friday in Boston. … The Mariners were 0-8 in third games of series this year before winning Thursday. … Bradley was 0-for-10 in the series and is hitless streak is at 16 at-bats. He hasn’t had a hit since suffering back pain last weekend, although it’s not clear if the two items are related. … Designated hitter Jack Cust was on the bench for the second time in four games Thursday with a .177 average. The first three times the slumping DH was rested all came against left-handed pitchers. But Thursday saw him ride the pines against a right-hander, the Tigers’ Brad Penny. … Olivo could have expected to get Thursday off, which is what a catcher usually gets for a day game following a night game. Wedge played him anyway, reasoning that Olivo has been hitting well and off-days surround both ends of this six-game road trip. Olivo came up with a single and his second homer. … Just five games into his big league career, Pineda has a 2.01 ERA, a .198 opponents’ batting average and 30 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. … Ichiro has six hits in his last 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position after an RBI double in the third inning. He’s hitting .417 (12-for-28) with two doubles and a dozen RBIs with men in scoring position this season. For his career, he’s a .339 (420-for-1240) hitter with men in scoring position with 38 doubles, 10 triples and 14 homers. … The Mariners’ last three-game series sweep against the Tigers came in 2003, when it happened twice.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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