BY Art Thiel 06:41PM 05/21/2017

Thiel: Even the healthy Mariners looking helpless

A sunny weekend brought more than 100,000 fans to Safeco, where they saw the Mariners lose three in a row, the last two by a combined 24-2. Yes, pitchers are hurt, but the healthy guys are doing little.

Scott Servais and staff really don’t have many options beyond waiting. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

As of Friday’s deadline for filing, 21 candidates are in the race to be Seattle’s next mayor. None of them are among the 11 people who have been a starting pitcher for the Mariners through 45 games. That could change.

The guy the Mariners chose Sunday, Chris Heston, walked three batters in the first inning. In three-plus innings, he gave up seven hits, seven runs and four walks. And he lowered his MLB ERA, to 21.60, from 22.30.

At this rate, some of the people with enough free time to run for office in a 21-person field might consider pitching for the Mariners. It’s less crowded, and the minimum requirements (ability to ambulate and masticate simultaneously) are similar.

While they’re at it, they might consider the sign-up sheet for position players, too.

The offense provided three runs total in three consecutive losses to the White Sox, Sunday’s 8-1 smack following a 16-1 dismembering Saturday. Not long ago in Toronto, the Mariners scored six runs in four games, all losses. At 20-25, they have lost eight of the past 11 and are in last place in the AL West.

In explaining things, manager Scott Servais was reduced to disses: Discouraging and  disheartening. He left out dismal.

Dismal is losing three home weekend games that drew more than 100,000 to Safeco Field, including 36,782 Sunday on Little League Day (in the stands).

“Good time,” he said, “for an off-day.”

Well, not really, not when the next eight games are on the road against two National League division leaders and the Boston Red Sox. An off-day now means more time to think about desperate things, such as putting DH Nelson Cruz in right field for the first time this season.

“We need his bat,” Servais said, “there’s no doubt.”

True, but the thought of Cruz wandering around the outfield, a greater threat to pull a hammy than catch a fly, should send a chill through any Mariners fan not already benumbed.

Health matters grew a bit worse over the weekend when 1B Danny Valencia injured a wrist during a rare appearance on the bases. It wasn’t serious, not enough for the 10-day disabled list yet, but was enough to call up Dan Vogelbach from Tacoma along with Heston.

He promptly muffed a grounder Sunday that helped grease Heston’s demise.

A part of the growing sense of futility is the absence of any solution other than waiting for a half-dozen or so of the 11 players on the disabled list to return to health. It’s caused Servais to fall back on the hoariest of sports-management cliches.

“They’ll keep fighting, clawing and scratching,” he said. “We knew there would be adverse times. How are you going to deal with it? I talk about it all the time: Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”

All true, none new.  These are, after all, professional athletes who are desperate to hang on to their fragile, lucrative careers, so the notion of quitting is irrelevant — with the occasional NBA exceptions such as Benoit Benjamin and Jerome James.

Yes, we know the bromide about about character and adversity. But the biggest part of success at the top is talent. The Mariners have too many AAA-or-below talents in the field and on the mound to sustain occasional success.

Once assembled, the Mariners are a better than .500 team. But besides missing four of the projected five starting pitchers, the Mariners’ five best hitters — Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura and rookie Mitch Haniger — have not been on the field at the same time since April 10.

Cano is booked to come back Tuesday from a strained quad when the Mariners play the Nationals in Washington, D.C., where they lead the NL East at 26-17. Other than his return, the Mariners can only stare at the training room door and see who shows.

There are no trades likely now, nor are there farm kids ready for meaningful time in the bigs. They used utility guy Mike Freeman for one inning of relief Saturday, then sent him down to Tacoma Sunday, so they’ve exhausted the well of comedic surprise.

The call-up for Heston, 29, was his second this season. His first was worse.

April 25 in Detroit, he came in to relieve a physically failing Felix Hernandez, but gave up five runs on seven hits, including two home runs. That was the 19-9 loss to the Tigers that also put Hernandez and Haniger on the disabled list, from which they have yet to return, and Heston was demoted until Sunday.

That Detroit game was the seasonal nadir, but losing a pair by a combined 24-2 is closing fast for second place.

Heston is a nice kid with some talent — believe it or not, pitching for the Giants in 2015, he no-hit the New York Mets — but Sunday was his first start since October 2015, and it came on three days’ rest. That’s how thin the Mariners farm system is. Servais has to help these guys swim through a sea of adrenaline, and more often than not, they drown.

“Just because you get called up, you are who you are, whether Tacoma or here,” he said, explaining his attempt to get the newbies to chill. “Just because you put our uniform on, you’re not going to throw 100 mph. You gotta trust your stuff, trust the defense behind you.

“Our (farm) guys aren’t going to blow you away with 95 mph.”

Perhaps when the mayoral field thins, a tryout camp may beckon. Nothing can be dismissed when current ERAs are above 20.


  • Tman

    The Boz could hit it out of the park.

    • art thiel

      Chris Bosio? Nah.

      • Tman

        Do Randy Johnson and the Sheriff have any time left on their contracts?

        • art thiel

          Look ahead. Never look back, as Satchel Paige wisely told you.

          • Tman

            It’s something when circumstances make you long for Satchel Paige.

  • Ken S.

    And he lowered his MLB ERA, to 21.60, from 22.30.At least he’s headed in the right direction. Too bad the M’s bats aren’t. It was painful to watch those last two games. I hate (painful) hangovers but these guys are driving me to drink.

    • art thiel

      The pitching problems, I get. Three runs in three games, I don’t get. Even without Cano, this lineup should get one key hit per weekend.

  • 1coolguy

    Yawn – Once again, out of he playoffs by June. At least these guys are consistent?
    As an old Oly guy, maybe “It’s the Water” : These M’s just aren’t accustomed to Seattle’s worst rainy season ever – maybe they can use it as their excuse, as I’m plumb out of anything else.

    • art thiel

      It could be that the injuries merely are random. Small sample size, but I’ll take it over the weather.

  • Kevin Lynch

    May need a total staff rebuild. That would be seriously painful. But at some point you have to develop a roster of healthy players, who don’t have multiple years with playing gaps of two months or more. What’s past is prologue. If you’re not paying them much it does change the picture but three of the four starters out are making nice coin. Pitching itself is painful, especially for veterans. But as veteran tennis player Rafa Nadal said in response to a reporter’s question about injury and pain – “I am not injured! But…’I have no pain?’ – that ended 10 years ago”. In other words, pain is part of it. He fights through it. And he is again a king. The indomitable Rafa.

    • art thiel

      Putting it another way was the the immortal sage Sparky Anderson: “Pain don’t hurt ya.”

      Counting on Felix and Kuma with all their hard miles was high-risk, and Smyly has quite the medical history too. You’re right about the need for a rotation rebuild, but the Mariners don’t have the prospects to hire one healthy guy in his prime.

  • ReebHerb

    The Mariners just made their pit stop early. After a few games for the injured to return and get their pro back on, they’ll be set for a surge. Later this summer when other teams are topping of their tanks and getting fresh rubber, a tow truck will bring our boys home.

    • art thiel

      Thank you Mr. NASCAR for explaining in terms we all understand.

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  • Effzee

    Time to revamp the unis.

    • art thiel

      Upside down trident. I’m telling you, don’t mess with the Greek deities.

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