During his three seasons with the Mariners, manager Eric Wedge often staunchly defended his core of young players as they struggled to succeed in the big leagues.
At Safeco Field, following a 10-1 loss Wednesday to the Indians, players returned the favor in their own ways, voicing their support when team officials told them Wedge suffered Monday what the club is calling a “very mild” stroke. Seattle was two-hit in a 10-1 loss to the Indians, but the outcome couldn’t have mattered less.
“It’s not great,” said Justin Smoak. “We’re all worried about him.”
Wedge is expected to miss Seattle’s home series against the Twins starting Thursday and the ensuing six-game road trip to Baltimore and Boston.
At an impromptu press conference post-game, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told reporters Wedge is resting at home after spending the past two nights in the hospital.
“We expect a full recovery,” Zduriencik said. “What he needs to do is stay home for a short period of time. We expect him to be back sooner than later . . . The common-sense thing is for Eric to rest.”
The health setback came as the Mariners revived with an eight-game winning streak and the best offense in the big leagues during July. Wedge, 45, will spend his recovery time at home and receive an evaluation from doctors when the Mariners return Aug. 5 to Seattle.
Dr. David Tirschwell, medical director of comprehensive stroke care at Harborview Hospital, said laying low for a week after suffering a stroke is probably the minimum recovery time. Tirschwell was not involved in Wedge’s treatment was speaking generally.
“If he is resting for only a week or two, that would be seen as on the short side of the recovery period,” he said by phone. “It is unusual to have strokes at age 45. But in a younger, motivated person, it is probably hard to keep him down. That he is on the high end of the motivation scale is not surprising.”
Tirschwell added that the consequences of strokes are varied and unpredictable.
“There’s a nearly infinite variety of shapes and sizes,” he said. “A stroke can hit any part of the brain, and all can have different impacts.”
After the loss, interim manager Robby Thompson, Wedge’s longtime friend, struggled to hide his concern.
“Eric’s a caring man and loves every one of those guys in that clubhouse, and I think they have that return for him.” said Thompson. “We’re just going to put our hearts and prayers with him, (his wife) Kate and his extended family.”
Shortstop Brendan Ryan has played under Wedge the past three seasons, enduring occasional benchings during his hitting slumps. He sat hunched in the chair in front of his locker as reporters asked questions about his manager.
“It’s scary stuff,” he said. “You don’t want to see that happen to anybody, but he’s a tough guy. You don’t want anybody to hurry anything like that. (He’ll) come back in his own time . . . The sooner he gets back the better.
“You’d rather it be a pulled calf or something.”
Given the choice, Seattle probably would rather not face Cleveland southpaw Scott Kazmir again, either. He lasted eight innings, struck out seven, walked two and gave up only a hit, a fifth-inning single to Justin Smoak.
He sent the Mariners to their first loss since July 11, when the Red Sox escaped Seattle with an 8-7, 10-inning win.
For a team that had done nearly all right since the All-Star Game break, all went awry in the fifth inning once reliever Hector Noesi entered the game with runners on first and second and two outs.
Seattle trailed 4-1 and hadn’t produced a hit, but there still remained optimism they could stage an improbable comeback for the second consecutive night.
At least, until Noesi began throwing. He entered and promptly walked No. 9 hitter Drew Stubbs to load the bases, then battled Michael Bourn to a 3-2 count. Bourn drove the ensuing center-cut fastball into the right field seats for his first career grand slam to give Cleveland an 8-1 lead.
In the opening frame, Saunders looked nothing like the pitcher who recorded wins in his previous four starts, nor the veteran who posted a 1.73 ERA in his past 26 innings. In his last 10 appearance back to May 29, Saunders allowed one run on six different occasions and lowered his ERA from 6.09 to 4.28. His consistency was a major boost to a club that in June was struggling to stay relevant.
This time he couldn’t rescue a makeshift lineup that Kazmir dominated. Kazmir routinely lived in the mid-90′s, mixed his pitches and worked the ball in and out of umpire Lance Barrett’s wide strike zone.
“He was a different pitcher than (when we saw him in Cleveland),” said Thompson. “He looked like he was the old Kazmir. He had the curveball. He had great life on his fastball. With his secondary stuff he was even better.”
He even had a new pitch.
“He had a cutter,” said Smoak after going 1-for-3 and drawing a walk. “I’ve never seen that before.”
Saunders, meanwhile, struggled to find the strike zone, and when he did, the Indians pounded him.
“His location and his command were off — especially with his fastball,” said Thompson. “His secondary stuff was also off. He got the ball up, got behind in the count a little bit and they took advantage.”
Saunders’ explanation for the rough outing was more simple, if not quite as enlightening.
“They might have been a little more aggressive,” he said. “I just have to go out there and make pitches.”
Bourn led off the first inning with a bunt single. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes all lined doubles, and the Indians built a 3-0 lead. In the third, Michael Saunders misplayed a sinking fly off the bat of Cabrera and the ball scooted all the way to the wall. Santana followed with another double, this one down the left-field line, to make it 4-1.
Saunders battled to record the first two outs of the fifth, but was lifted after yielding a single to Mark Reynolds and walking Yan Gomes.
Next came the Noesi implosion.
Saunders finished 4.2 innings and gave up nine hits and six runs, only five of which were earned. Noesi was worse. The two hits he surrendered cleared the fences.
The beat-down, thorough as it was, did little to erase Seattle’s recent surge. The club is 13-6 in July and sets up well against Minnesota since All-Stars Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are first up against the struggling (43-55) members of the AL Central. The series magnifies in importance because it precedes the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Zduriencik earlier in the week said he isn’t shopping players or actively trying to pull off any late acquisitions as Seattle attempts to re-enter the AL wild card race.
It’s fair to assume such a task became more difficult now that Wedge will miss at least the next 10 games.
“He’s a strong, determined man,” Thompson said. “He’ll be back sooner than later.”