The Mariners avoided a sweep and survived another shaky performance from the bullpen to end the Astros’ four-game winning streak by way of a 3-2 victory Wednesday night at Safeco (box score). Seattle is finding ways to win close games — a sign of a team that contends for a division title. That the Mariners are playing in a division that is looking like the NFC South should only help Seattle’s quest to bounce back from its early-season struggles. None of the so-called experts are rushing back to social media to drop any I-told-you-so proclamations about the AL West favorite Mariners, but at least Seattle stopped the bleeding.
Yoervis Medina was far from a hero, but he did get the most important out in the eighth when he fanned Houston slugger Chris Carter on three pitches with the bases loaded. That Medina was the guy who loaded the bases by walking three of the first four batters he faced was significant. But he weaseled his way out by whiffing Carter, who homered one inning earlier. That strikeout preserved a 3-2 lead for closer Fernando Rodney.
J.A. Happ turned in another solid performance and continues to be the only Seattle starter not named Felix who is consistently giving the team a chance to win. He threw 7.1 quality innings and earned his first win as a Mariner. Medina nearly blew it, while closer Rodney earned another make-you-sweat save. The Seattle pitcher to have the worst day turned out to be starter James Paxton, who didn’t throw a single pitch but saw his ERA rise be three runs – from 5.40 to 8.40. Paxton was charged with five more runs during Sunday’s disastrous third inning, thanks to an MLB ruling that changed an error on SS Willie Bloomquist to a base hit.
The Mariners did just enough to support Happ’s solid start – and that’s a nice change for this underachieving team. DH Nelson Cruz and SS Brad Miller both had RBI singles, but the big hit was C Mike Zunino’s solo homer in the third inning — his second homer in five days. The bad news was that the Seattle bats went virtually silent over the final five innings, allowing Houston to entertain thoughts of another comeback.
“He just lost his slider and couldn’t get it back. Fortunately, he was able to throw a hanging slider (to Chris Carter) that was so bad (Carter) couldn’t hit it.” – Manager Lloyd McClendon, on reliever Yoervis Medina getting out of the eighth after giving up three walks.
Offense hasn’t been the problem this season, but the Mariners are being proactive nonetheless. McClendon trotted out his 14th lineup in 15 games Wednesday, featuring the team’s third leadoff hitter of the series in DH Seth Smith. But the most notable shakeup came with the team’s signing of former All-Star Carlos Quentin to a minor-league deal. The 32-year-old Quentin has knee problems, might have anger-management issues and got bounced from the Atlanta organization without playing a single game there. But he could provide an option at first base or designated hitter down the road if the hobbled outfielder can prove that he is healthy and still has some pop. At least these days, an aging hitter with plenty of question marks isn’t being asked to fortify the middle of Seattle’s order; he’s just being brought in to add an option if things go south.
The Mariners’ third off-day of the season seems to come at a good time for a team that needs to gather itself. But taking time off hasn’t exactly worked in Seattle’s favor this season. After the previous two off days, the Mariners lost by an aggregate score of 15-1. Having Felix Hernandez (2-0, 2.37 ERA) on the mound gives Seattle a significant advantage Friday night, especially considering that he’s going against struggling Minnesota starter Phil Hughes (0-3, 5.30 ERA).