BY Art Thiel 10:00PM 05/06/2018

Thiel: So this is why Dipoto wanted Ohtani

The Shohei Showdown Sunday went to Ohtani, the Angels’ Japanese sensation who out-pitched the Mariners’ former ace, Felix Hernandez. This will continue to be a problem.

Shohei Ohtani shut out the Mariners over six innings. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Entertaining as they have been for five weeks, the Mariners, along with the Angels, Sunday demonstrated two things that were known at the outset of spring training: Starting pitching is the separator, and general manager Jerry Dipoto’s professional lust for Japanese star Shohei Ohtani was not misplaced, even if his landing in MLB was.

As a result, the Mariners’ 19-14 record is a tad suspect.

Ohtani not only pitched six shutout innings at Safeco Field, giving up two hits and two walks, he followed two Angels starters, Garrett Richards Friday and Tyler Skaggs Saturday, in crushing a Mariners lineup that has done well outside of the AL West. Sunday was 8-2 (box), followed by a distinct thud.

“We didn’t get much going all series against their starting pitching,” said manager Scott Servais. No kidding: In 17 combined innings against the trio, the Mariners scored four runs and struck out 21 times.

The only reason they weren’t swept at home was by playing their most resolute offensive game of the season Saturday. Rallying from a 4-0 deficit for a 6-4 lead, and after closer Edwin Diaz blew his first save of the season, rallying in extra innings from deficits of 7-6 and 8-7, the Mariners won 9-8, a dramatic, 4½-hour chore.

Ohtani’s much-anticipated debut in Seattle, three days after countryman Ichiro was pushed off the Seattle roster into a quasi-managment job, was about as impressive a rookie show as Ichiro produced on numerous occasions in 2001 when he was the league MVP as well as rookie of the year.

“His fastball has got velocity,” Servais said. “There were stretches where he commanded it better than others. The secondary pitches are real — curveball, slider and split-finger all have depth. They are hard.

“He’s very poised. He gave us chances that we didn’t turn into hits, or big hits at all.”

It’s exactly the dominance Dipoto sought for the Seattle rotation in his well-publicized pursuit in the off-season of a superior athlete as capable on the mound as he is at the plate, where he is hitting .339 with four homers and 14 RBIs.

But even though speculation had the Mariners close to a signing, Ohtani surprised the unusual free agent field of suitors by choosing the Angels. He’s never said why he passed on Seattle, but one report said the Mariners’ rich tradition with Japanese players actually worked against them: Ohtani didn’t want to play in the shadow of Ichiro’s legacy.

But did he have to go to a division rival? And did it have to be Dipoto’s previous employer, whose meddlesome owner contributed to Dipoto’s departure?

All of that likely contributed to an afternoon for which only Dipoto’s dentist could appreciate, for all the work he’ll be getting repairing ground-up molars.

The outcome provided a cruel contrast for the Mariners because the losing pitcher was Felix Hernandez, the one-time ace for whom adventures between good and bad are a predictable fate. It’s part of why Dipoto felt urgency in the pursuit of a 23-year-old phenom.

“He didn’t have his his best stuff today,” Servais said. “Credit to him — he didn’t have his A game and continued to compete. There wasn’t one pitch working for him at all in the first couple of innings.”

Especially in the second inning, when Zach Cozart and Chris Young hit solo homers back to back for a 2-0 lead. In the sixth inning, Hernandez threw an uncatchable curve ball in the dirt that was nevertheless swung at for strike three, creating a baserunner out of the rare strikeout/wild pitch entry on the scorecard.

Two batters later, the inevitable Mike Trout, who seems to bat nine times a game against the Mariners, hit a three-run homer off reliever Chasen Bradford that de-fizzed the otherwise glorious spring afternoon for 40,142. Said Servais: “He was in the middle of everything this series.”

In 5.2 innings, Hernandez gave up five runs on seven hits and four walks with five strikeouts. The outing was of a kind with his fellow starters, who as a group have averaged 5.1 innings per start this season and have a collective ERA of 5.30.

That is no way to go six months through the AL West, where the Angels and world champion Astros have rotations built for the postseason. Unsurprisingly, the Mariners are 2-5 against them, 8-8 in the division overall.

“It’ the toughest division in baseball,” Hernandez said, somewhat defensively and arguably inaccurately. “We were playing pretty good, I give up those two homers.

“I just need to keep the ball in the ballpark. That’s all. From now on, that’s my goal.”

Since he’s given up nine in eight starts, that is certainly is an admirable goal, if a bit, shall we say, lofty.

The problem was hardly unexpected for a 32-year-old with a log of more than 2,500 major league innings. That’s why Dipoto wanted Ohtani.

It wasn’t hard to see it coming. Sunday for Mariners fans, it was just hard to see it.


  • bevdog

    Spot on Art…. their glaring weakness is starting pitching. Good batting lineup and subpar pitching that will not compete with the likes of Houston or perhaps the Angels.
    Sad but true. Hopeful but realistic. Note the Met’s Harvey is available but where is Dipoto?

    • art thiel

      Are the Mariners in need of pitchers with injury issues?

      • bevdog

        Any pitcher that is better than our sorry starters even if the pitcher has been hurt or injured previously.

    • Husky73

      Harvey has been angry for five years. No thanks.

  • coug73

    same o’ same o’

  • Effzee

    This team is good enough to batter bad pitching through the summer and compete for a wild card spot, but they aren’t going anywhere without an ace on the staff.

    • art thiel

      You’re kind of old fashioned, expecting perhaps 6 IP and <5 earned runs from a starter, yes?

      • Effzee

        Having at least one guy who can deliver those numbers more often than not would be nice. If that makes me old fashioned, pass me the Geritol.

  • ReebHerb

    …but, the Mariners are really fun to watch. It’s more than starting from low expectations. This group of players are actually trying to hit the ball, run the bases, and field their positions. It is such a big change from waiting for Ackley, working a walk (watching strike 3), and waiting for August weather to heat the bats. We all know the division is tough; even Oakland doesn’t look to be a slouch. I’m enjoying.

    • art thiel

      It’s been largely good baseball. Just not good enough.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Yep, you got it Art. It’s the Kiss Rule. Keep it simple. Good pitching will wear down good hitting over time. 5.1 innings per start for Mariners starters will roast and toast the pen by August. But…if they can pass the Angels they have a chance for the playoffs. If they can’t, they are done. Those series are what will really matter this year.

    • art thiel

      After no Ohtani, no plan B.

      • Husky73

        I remain the Mariner Optimist.

  • Sam Base

    When the Ohtani sweepstakes were underway and the national media had him landing in Seattle, all I asked of the baseball gods was that if he didn’t come to Seattle that he please, please stay out of the AL West and for the love of God please don’t let him go to the Angels. Of course, he went to the Angels. And so now they have both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Talk about being kissed by Heaven.

    • art thiel

      I wondered who put in the jinx. It’s on you, pal.

  • Husky73

    It’s tough to watch Felix lumber out to the mound, and then labor through 4-5 innings. He struggles through pitch #20 as much as he does in pitch #70.