BY SPNW Staff 10:56PM 06/12/2013

Astros’ six-run ninth smashes Mariners

Jeremy Bonderman pitched an eight-inning shutout, then found out what it’s like to be a Mariners starter, getting almost nothing from everyone else on the team. One of the worst ninth innings in the club’s woeful history, coming from the worst team in MLB, created a stunning 6-1 shredding of the Mariners Tuesday night.

Taking over  a 1-0 lead after rookie Nick Franklin’s third hit of the game, closer Tom Wilhelmsen fell apart, giving up five runs on three hits and two intentional walks while getting just a single out, and that was a sacrifice bunt. The six runs were the most the Mariners allowed in a ninth inning since nine to Baltimore May 23, 2006.

“I’ll do what’s right for the team,” said Eric Wedge calmly after the game, answering a question about whether a new closer was due. “You’ve got to be careful with any decision. You’ve got to make sure it’s right. You don’t want to bounce back and forth (between pitchers).

“We’ve got to get Tom to drive the ball downstairs. We’ll work on it. He’s always been strong-minded. We’ll get him back on track.”

Meanwhile, Wilhelmsen and fellow relievers Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush drove crazy the remainder of the crowd of 13,823 — the three-game series drew less than 37,000 —  who thought they were going to see the Mariners’ first series sweep of the season and first three-game win streak since May 1-4. Instead, the Mariners finished the homestand 5-5 and trail the Astros, operating on MLB’s smallest payroll, in the season series 5-4.

A 0-0 deadlock between two feeble offenses was broken up in the eighth. Rookie Nick Franklin’s third hit of the night, a single to right, drove home Endy Chavez, who opened with a single — the Mariners’ first hit since the fourth inning — and was bunted to second. Franklin’s single came off reliever Travis Blackley, once considered one of the “gems” of the minor league system who ended up making six starts for the Mariners in 2004 before getting hurt.

Astros starter Jordan Lyles also threw zeroes, going seven innings and allowing three hits.

Franklin’s RBI was a modest reward for Bonderman, who gave up three hits in a masterful game (89 pitches, 60 strikes). It was only his third major league start after nearly a 1,000-day recovery from ailments that nearly derailed his career.

The work came to naught. Wilhelmsen allowed two singles to start the ninth. After the sac bunt, he walked Carlos Pena intentionally to load the bases. Chris Carter doubled off the base of the left field wall for two runs. That blew the save, but the house was still coming down.

After another intentional walk reloaded the bases, Wedge hooked Wilhelmsen for Medina. Brandon Barnes hit a catchable liner to left that somehow skipped off the outstretched glove of Jason Bay, making it 3-1. Merwin Gonzalez struck out, but a single by Jose Altuve plated two more. Furbush allowed the final humiliation with a bases-loaded walk.

The debacle spoiled some of the debut of Mike Zunino, the heralded rookie catcher who was the Mariners’ top pick in the 2012 draft. He was the first player from that class to reach the majors.

He had a single in four at-bats, showed quality glove work and footwork behind the plate, and called a good game with Bonderman, whom he caught eight times when both were in AAA Tacoma earlier this season.In the eighth, Zunino threw out Gonzalez attempting to steal second, the runner so out he never bothered to slide.

Ackley now in the outfield

The Dustin Ackley saga took another turn with his deployment to the outfield in AAA Tacoma. He started in left field Wednesday in Las Vegas. Franklin has played well at second base for the big club since his promotion to replace Ackley, and Ackley played in the outfield for much of his college career at North Carolina.

Ackley was converted to second base by the Mariners partly out of questions about his arm strength. But at the plate, he has hit .429 for the Rainiers, so the Mariners feel compelled to find him a spot somewhere in the major league lineup.

Morse, Morales still hurting

Michael Morse (strained quad) and Kendrys Morales (strained lower back) were again held out of Wednesday’s game. Wedge hoped the rest, combined with Thursday’s off-day travel to Oakland, will get them right. With injuries and demotions, the Mariners have had to give a lot more consecutive games to some players who weren’t expecting the load.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are dinged up right and it’s probably for the fact we’ve had to run them out there,” Wedge told reporters before the game. “We’ve been thin and we’ve had guys that are limited, so we haven’t been able to get guys days off over the course of this 20 (games in a row) like you’d like to see. It’s just been such a grind. I’ve never been part of a grind like this for the first two and a half months.

“These players have really been up against it. And you know what, they don’t complain. They show up ready to play, they understand responsibility. It’ll come back to us, the toughness they’ve shown here.”

Two other missing starters, OF Franklin Gutierrez and 1B Justin Smoak, are making progress.

Gutierrez, out since April 23 with a strained hamstring, began his second minor league rehab stint in Tacoma at designated hitter Wednesday, and will graduate to the outfield shortly. Smoak (strained oblique muscle) took batting practice for second day in a row at Safeco, including swings from the left side that had hampered his progress. Smoak will report to Tacoma Thursday for his rehab stint.

Mariners sign top pick, 12 others

D.J. Peterson, the Mariners’ first pick in the first-year player draft last week, signed a contract and will start his pro career at Class A Everett Friday. Peterson, a junior at the University of New Mexico and the 12th pick overall, took batting practice before Wednesday’s game with the Astros.

MLB teams have until July 12 to sign all draftees.

Another dozen players also signed: RHPs Emilio Pagan (10th round), Kevin McCoy (24th), Ricky Claudio (27th), Rafael Pineda (30th); LHPs Tyler Olson (7th), Jacob Zokan (9); INFs D.J. Peterson (1st), Jack Reinheimer (5th), Justin Seager (12th), Jeff Zimmerman (19th); OFs Tyler O’Neill (3rd), Corey Simpson (6th), Chantz Mack (30th).

The Class A short season for the Everett AquaSox begins Friday at Spokane. The rookie-league teams in Pulaski, TN., and Peoria, AZ., start June 20.


  • jafabian

    I haven’t really had any issue with Ackley playing second. It’s his bat that’s the problem. However maybe having him switch positions will help his hitting. It worked for Chone Figgins. Wait, no it didn’t.

    Its closer-by-committee time. Wilhelsmsen has been steadily declining for the past month and cost the team games. What’s George Sherrill doing nowadays?

    • Trygvesture

      Yer making me grin, jaf.
      It’s interesting that Z’s guys are pretty darn good at AAA baseball, and just can’t squeeze through the MLB door and stick. (He builds a good minor league system, as advertised). The majors seem to be just out of their range, beyond the territory where they can excel. The best reach mid-range, the others just end up elsewhere. I think Lincoln must’ve traded away Ruth in a previous life.
      Armstrong had a 3 year contract drawn up for Sherrill at the start of the season– pretty sure. Just crossed out Ichi’s and Griff’s names.

  • Trygvesture

    Now moving Dustin to outfield? Like, the second base conversion might not have a been brilliant decision? Again? The team, the franchise, the FO can’t even dance alone with itsowndamnself without stepping on toes and stumbling across the floor for all to see.
    But hey, how about that big mondo screen that distracts all those interested in BASEBALL from focusing on the game, even on TV? Good enough to keep the desperate or insane13k seated, it seems. At least when there were 13k in the Kingdome, we went to see the Game, the other team, the occassional brilliance of individual players: The words “Fan Experience” were never uttered.
    (Stone was right– leave, Howard, leave.)