Mariners beat Tigers 10-1 as Erik Bedard pitches through seventh inning.
DETROIT — This was the Erik Bedard some younger Mariners fans had only heard rumors about.
The guy who used to throw seven strong innings more than once every couple of years. A pitcher who when healthy — as he was in a 10-1 win over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night — could compete right up there with the best in all of baseball.
Bedard didn’t need to be baseball’s best on a night the free-swinging Tigers gave away outs the way the Mariners handed over players to Baltimore in a 5-for-1 trade for the southpaw pitcher three years ago.
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But it was a huge step forward from the five-inning stuff Bedard had offered up his first few weeks back from the shoulder problems that have derailed much of his Seattle career.
“They were swinging tonight, so I economized my pitches and got deep into the game,” he said.
And the Mariners actually needed that in a game that was anything but the blowout it turned into in front of 18,153 fans at Comerica Park.
Bedard’s first win since June 7, 2009, was anything but sealed before the Mariners put it away with a six-run ninth inning off a terrible-looking Tigers bullpen. Justin Smoak had the big hit in that frame with a two-run single, giving him a career-high five-RBI night.
Smoak had gotten Bedard’s night started before the lefty even took the mound, tagging Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander for a three-run homer to left-center field in the first inning. The blast, estimated at 405 feet, came after Smoak entered the game batting just .185 off right-handed pitchers this year.
Last year, he had far more success versus right-handers. But the Mariners have faced a plethora of lefties so far, and Smoak admitted it’s taken him time to get comfortable batting from the left side against righties again.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You’ve got to keep putting as much work in on one side as you do the other, so hopefully, it will click there soon.”
It didn’t take long to click against Verlander, whose explosive fastball has been known to tie hitters in knots. Smoak said he went up there looking for a fastball and jumped on one when given the chance.
“I think everybody knows he’s a really good pitcher and has great stuff,” Smoak said. “You’ve just got to try to get on him early and we did.”
Detroit got a run back off Bedard in the bottom of the first on a Miguel Cabrera double. But that was pretty much it, with the Tigers managing just one single in innings two through four as Bedard retired nine of 10.
Miguel Olivo, who added three more hits in this game, padded the lead to 4-1 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Then, in the bottom of the inning, the Tigers had their final shot at Bedard with a pair of one-out singles.
But Bedard retired Casper Wells on a ground out and struck out Austin Jackson to end the threat.
“He threw well and he gave us a chance to win,” Smoak said.
That he did in what remained a 4-1 game until the blowout ninth. Bedard had thrown just 25 pitches his first three innings and was at 79 when he made it through the sixth for the first time this season.
Nine pitches later, Bedard was through the seventh, and he had retired eight in a row when finally pulled.
“They swung early in every inning pretty much,” he said. “And they hit it at people. That’s the biggest thing.”
And the Mariners didn’t mess up when the balls were hit their way — unlike the Tigers, who committed four errors and kept Verlander out there longer than he had to be in battling through six innings.
Bedard also wasn’t plagued by the control issues that ran his pitch counts up quickly in previous starts. He focused on landing his fastballs and curves for strikes, then let his defense — and offense, for a change — do the rest.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge, whose team has quietly won six of 10, said Bedard keeps improving every step of the way.
“I felt like there were things that happened with each and every one of his starts that were getting him closer to where he needed to be,” Wedge said.
Bedard’s velocity was back up again, consistently hitting 91 mph on his fastball. Wedge had said pregame that velocity can take time to return for pitchers after long layoffs, and that he expected Bedard’s to improve as he got more comfortable being on a mound again.
“They were aggressive against him, but if he’s not making pitches, it’s a different ballgame,” Wedge said. “He was making pitches.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org