All season, manager Lloyd McClendon has the same refrain when the Mariners’ punchless offense is brought up.
“We’re challenged,” is the usual the reply. Wednesday, McClendon stood at the podium after an 8-1 defeat at the hands of the Twins and again tried to stay positive, despite scoring seven runs in the past six games.
“Listen, I’ve said it time and time again — from an offensive standpoint we’re going to be challenged. Some days, it won’t look good,” said McClendon. “I’ll take the whole picture and I think we’re going to be OK. It’s just a tough couple of days for us.”
It was a bad night to get a short outing from a starter with a bullpen day scheduled for Thursday. Tom Wilhelmsen will get the start, but how many innings the reliever can give McClendon remains to be seen. Suddenly, the Mariners are in danger of dropping a four-game series to the Twins, bringing up the rear in the AL Central at 41-49.
While the scuffling offense is of major concern, the pitching of Roenis Elias must be, too.
Elias was up with his fastball again and paid the price. Over the first two innings, the Twins knocked around Elias for five runs on six hits. Elias left after allowing seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and three walks in 3.1 innings.
The 25-year-old rookie has given up five or more earned runs in each of his last three outings. His ERA has risen from 3.74 to 4.54. One of the issues concerning Elias and the coaching staff is his load of innings. Elias (7-8) has 113 innings. He threw 130 innings for the entire 2013 season.
“The one thing we forget, particularly with young players and pitchers in particular, this game can be really tough and really cruel sometimes,” McClendon said. “One thing I told him tonight is he’ll get through these growing pains and we’ll be there every step of the way. But it was a tough night for him in a lot of different ways.”
What has McClendon seen?
“His stuff is pretty darn good. But I don’t care who you are — you’ve seen guys like Justin Verlander go through it,” McClendon said. “When you don’t have command of the fastball . . . you’re going to get hit, and he just has not had command.”
Up 1-0 entering the second, Minnesota put the first five men on base via a walk, two singles and two doubles. By the time the inning was over, the Twins plated four runs and Elias’ pitch count stood at 54.
Kendrys Morales led the Twins with three RBI while Chris Colabello batted 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI.
Meanwhile, the Seattle offense is in its worst slump of the season. A Robinson Cano seventh-inning double snapped a 17-inning scoreless streak dating to Michael Saunders’ solo home run in the seventh inning Monday.
“We didn’t get any extra-base hits for the most part, a lot of singles,” McClendon said. “(Minnesota) played a nice game. They kicked our butts tonight.”
Twins’ right-hander Kyle Gibson (8-7, 3.92 ERA) was the latest pitcher to hold the M’s scoreless. Using a sinker-changeup mix, the 26-year-old allowed seven hits and a walk over six innings. He struck out three on 91 pitches.
“He threw the ball well. I don’t think he had his best stuff tonight, but he made do with what he had,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He got himself in a couple of little jams but got out of them by making pitches. That’s kind of what we’re looking for.”
It also helped that Brian Dozier made a number of slick fielding plays behind him. He robbed Brad Miller of a sure base hit on a hard hit ground ball in the eighth.
“Dozier had a ton of really nice plays today,” Seager said. “It seemed like he was everywhere out there.”
Seattle had 12 hits, one for extra bases — Cano’s double. Any time two were on, Gibson wriggled out of the situation. Cano batted 3-for-5, while Endy Chavez, Saunders and Seager each had two hits.
Thursday’s start will be the first of Wilhelmsen’s major-league career. A spot was opened in the rotation when McClendon pushed Felix Hernandez back to Friday to face the division-leading Athletics . . . The Mariners optioned RHP Taijuan Walker to Triple-A Tacoma and recalled reliever Stephen Pryor before Wednesday’s game. The move allows Walker to make two starts for Tacoma beginning Saturday, as well as, Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young pitching on regular rest against the A’s Saturday and Sunday. With All-Star break next week, it was important to get Walker innings and also make sure Young didn’t have a longer layoff . . . Pryor pitched 1.2 innings in which he allowed a hit, two walks and one unearned run. The Mariners willoption him back to Tacoma Thursday and recall LHP reliever Lucas Luetge.