BY Art Thiel 07:16PM 05/29/2016

Thiel: Swept at home again, Mariners shrug anew

For the third time this season, the Mariners were swept at home by a lesser team, this time the Twins. The way they did it was startling — beating up the starting pitching.

Taijuan Walker was pulled from the game in in the fifth inning when he gave up three runs. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

By now, after being swept at home a third time by a lesser team this young season, Mariners fans figure to have built up a callous regarding these things. But no, each time it happens, the wound re-opens to accept 40 years of salty despair from the jaded.

That’s because wailing and lamenting is emotionally a more rewarding action than a shrug followed by the statement,  “That’s baseball.”

But for a team that has MLB’s best road record, there is no other worthy explanation. Certainly not from Scott Servais. When asked how the Mariners could have been swept three games at home by the lowly Minnesota Twins, a deed done in mid-May by the Angels and early April by the Athletics, the Mariners manager adopted the familiar shoulder hunch.

“We haven’t played well, for whatever reason,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on it . . . I believe in our guys. We do have a couple guys out.”

That’s true. CF Leonys Martin and SS Ketel Marte, perhaps the starting lineup’s two best athletes, have been absent with injury. Marte’s two replacements, Chris Taylor and Shawn O’Malley, made egregious errors that contributed to losses.

But they didn’t pitch.

That’s where the problem advances beyond injuries and shrugs.

Sunday, starter Taijuan Walker gave up three home runs among six hits that helped produce all five Twins runs over four innings. Saturday, Wade Miley gave up five runs in four innings. Friday, Felix Hernandez gave up eight hits and six runs in six innings.

To the Twins, of all teams. They came into the series at 12-34, tied with Atlanta for baseball’s worst record. Minnesota entered the game 26th in OPS but scored 18 runs in the series, which included eight home runs into the legendary marine layer that’s a tradition of every sodden Memorial Day weekend here. They have won 10 of the past 13 against the Mariners.

Sunday, Walker said after another inadequate start that he went away from his fastball and tried to out-think hitters with off-speed pitches. Even though he’s made the same mistake before, he did it again.

“I was trying to sneak it by them,” he said. “I really have to establish the fastball.

“If I kept a couple of balls in the park, it’s a different story.”

If/then . . .

If the Mariners hadn’t been over-amped on the basepaths Saturday, they might have avoided a historic, game-ending double play accomplished without a batted ball in play.

Counting a sixth-inning failure at the plate by Seth Smith, the Mariners Saturday were thrown out for the cycle in a 6-5 loss. That’s hard to do.

The sweep followed a 5-1 road trip that pushed the Mariners 10 games over .500, a height unseen by the franchise since 2003. To come home and fail against the squad from Lake Wobegon is like burning up the turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving and heading to Pizza Hut.

However . . .

As long-timers know, Memorial Day weekend is usually the time when the Mariners bid adieu to pennant contention. Typically, they are a half-dozen or more games under .500 and the various managers are speaking bravely about getting this player back, or that player hot, or suggesting it’s still early. Then the bosses panic and trade away a good catcher (remember the six-game career last season of Wellington Castillo?) for magic beans, and the whole thing devolves into extended spring training.

Despite the sweep, the Mariners, at 28-21, are still way above expectations traditional with this club. And they have demonstrated resilience after bad play that should be the hallmark of a veteran-heavy team that was baseball’s oldest at the start of the season.

They know better than to panic. New general manager Jerry Dipoto has preached to the organization about staying cool in the heat.

But if you feel compelled to work your worry beads into a pulp, feel free to have a sweat over the starting pitching.

In his age-30 season with a lot of hard MLB miles on his arm, Hernandez is having more frequent bad innings. He’s still good pitcher, but sustaining excellence from game to game and inning to inning is harder than at his mid-career peak.

Walker, next in the line of succession to be king, still hasn’t learned to pitch intelligently. Presumably, that will dissipate with experience. Whether that happens this season is anyone’s guess.

Miley and Nathan Karns have exceeded expectations but are still American League newbies who are subject to improved scouting reports. Hisashi Iwakuma, 35, has pitched 62.1 innings in 10 starts, nearly identical to Hernandez’s modest durability. Over the course of a season, the failure of starters to get deep into games is a bullpen-burner.

The return of Martin and Marte create an above-average offensive team. Whether the rotation keeps up is the question for the rest of the season.

The Mariners have the 20-31 Padres for four games, two here Monday and Tuesday, then two more in San Diego. I’d call them the Twins of the National League, but I don’t want to spoil the rest of the weekend for Mariners fans.

Kivlehan re-acquired from Rangers

Perhaps the off-season trade with Texas for Martin became a little better Sunday. INF Patrick Kivlehan was re-acquired from the Rangers for a player to chosen later or cash. To make room on the 40-man roster, relief pitcher Evan Scribner, who hasn’t pitched this season, was transferred to the 60-day disabled list (lat strain).

Kivlehan was released last week by the Rangers after hitting .184 with 17 runs scored, eight doubles, one home run, 16 RBIs and 11 walks in 36 games with AAA Round Rock this season. He played first base (16 GS), third base (16) and designated hitter (4).

Kivlehan was the player to be chosen later from the Nov. 16 trade when the Mariners acquired Martin and RHP Anthony Bass from Texas for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen and OF James Jones. Wilhelmsen and Jones are at Round Rock.

Kivlehan was a fourth-round pick by Seattle in the 2012 draft out of Rutgers. If the return helps him regain his early career flourish, the Mariners might have pulled off a sneaky-sneaky.


  • Kevin Lynch

    Good article Art! It’s a looooong season. They still look good for 85 wins and maybe 90 but the 95-100 wins fantasized by Groz on the radio the other day seem more than wishful thinking. Hills and valleys. It’s a slog. Four game against the San Diego rear brake PADS and then 30 serious games against real competition. Only 3 games against the Rays in that 30, the only team who has a losing record, currently. The others will tell the tale of the first half of the season for the M’s.

    • art thiel

      The schedule is seriously tough after SD. And every season contains flat-tire episodes. Remember in ’01 when the Mariners were up 14-2 in Cleveland and lost 15-14?

  • jafabian

    This team wasn’t going to shrug off the vestiges of last season like nothing. Occasionally a blip will appear on their radar. Not really liking that it’s always been at home. One thing that Servais should put on his priority list it to make the players believe in Safeco Field. George Karl once said a priority to him was to get the Sonics players to defend their home turf. To have a “Not in our house” mentality and the M’s should work on developing that. If anything they complain about Safeco Field’s impact on hitting as if going back to the Kingdome is an option.

    • art thiel

      There aren’t many players on this team from last season, so I don’t think there’s much carryover either way.

      Nor do I think there needs to be an attitude adjustment for Safeco. Worked OK in 2001 and since then the fences were moved in. And the summer temps will help a big with the carry of the ball.

  • Long-Time Mariners Fan

    The Shrug is real – we see it after every loss in Servais’s post game press conference. But that’s The Shrug that’s for the public – what else is he (or any manager) going to say to reporters? Of course it’s a long season and we play them one-at-a-time, but what is said to the team down in the locker room? What has to be said down in the locker room?

    There was a clue on Friday – Taylor’s two errors were glaring. In the locker room after the game, Taylor said (to the cameras) something like, “Guess I’ve got to get a short memory.” And what happened? Bang – back to Tacoma. Heck, yeah. What if he’d taken responsibility and showed some contrition and crafted a solution… something like, “Yeah, man, I screwed up good. Cost us the ball game. I’ll be out there early tomorrow morning doing some drills.”

    Not that I want Taylor out there until Marte gets healthy, but THAT is the attitude that we need to bounce back from the inevitable loss(es) that we’re going to suffer. Baseball is just a series of individual efforts – pitcher / batter / fielder / runner. No, you can’t beat yourself up after every error or called third strike or freaky double play, but you can own them, learn from them, turn it around. I don’t care if Servais shrugs during the press conference. I want him to be Dave Valle in the locker room – the Dave Valle who was the #2 catcher behind Pudge Rodriguez on the Rangers in 1996. The Dave Valle who called a team meeting and talked to each individual on the ballclub. The Dave Valle who looked each player/coach/staffer in the eye and asked: “Are you willing to do what it takes to win?” The result? Ah… Google it yerself.

    • art thiel

      Wow. A 20-year-old Dave Valle pull. You go, LTMF.

      You’re right about not taking the post-game expressions by manager or players too seriously. But I don’t think a team needs a confrontation meeting after every 3-game losing streak. They did have won after the Oakland sweep, which obviously helped a little.

      As you saw Sunday, things healed up a bit. Far as I can tell, I don’t see attitude as being a problem with this group yet.

  • Paul Harmening

    Clobbered the fathers (Padres) today. So breathe again.

    We’ve been feasting on spam for so long we got used to it. Now, since steak is being served most of the time (on the road) we totally regurgitate the old serving when it shows up once in a while. Well, of course!

    I don’t want to be concerned about Felix, but to tell the truth, I started thinking about that last year. I expected Kuma to downslide. Actually, he started that last year as well. But, we’re talking minor here for both of them. Any reasonable run support for Felix and this is not a topic for him.

    And this thing about losing at Safeco…Is it because the Sodo area is jinked? Does the Port have a Sodo doll they are sticking pins into?

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