Seattle's Erasmo Ramirez struck out 10 Oakland hitters, but a second-inning homer by Seth Smith gave the A's a 1-0 victory at Safeco Field.
There wasn’t much more Erasmo Ramirez could do for a Mariners team on its way to solidifying its last-place status the remainder of the season.
Other than, perhaps, not throwing a first-pitch fastball that Seth Smith belted over the center-field wall in the second inning for the only run anyone scored all night. That pitch was enough to secure a 1-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics Monday night in a game in which Ramirez struck out 10 over eight innings of three-hit ball.
And that strikeout tally represents some of the long-term, positive outlook the Mariners will attempt to take out of this contest, namely because the shorter-term stuff is becoming unwatchable. As in 23 consecutive innings without the Mariners scoring, nine shutouts tossed against them and eight losses in their last 10 games at home.
“I tried just to throw the ball as hard as I can and follow the catcher,” Ramirez said after becoming the eighth Mariners rookie to strike out at least 10 in a game.
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Rather than attempt perfection with every pitch — something that hurt him his first two times out as a big-league starter — Ramirez just tried to be good enough. And for most of the night, that was enough, including the first and seventh, when he struck out the side.
“I felt more comfortable,” Ramirez said of the first inning. “The ball was down and my arm, it was like I had better command. So, after that inning, it was like ‘OK, I have the command right now. Be aggressive and keep throwing strikes.’ “
And he was more aggressive. Far more than he’d been in giving up four earned runs in four innings at Arizona last week, or five earned runs in five frames in his first major-league start, against San Diego.
The mid-90s fastball with late-breaking movement he’d used to notch a pair of called strikeouts on the first two A’s batters eventually gave way to some deceptive changeups. Ramirez allowed just two singles after Smith’s home run and got a timely double-play grounder in the eighth after Brandon Inge led off with a hit.
Unfortunately for Ramirez, he wasn’t entirely perfect on a night he wasn’t trying to be.
But when your team can’t score, perfection is sometimes the only way to succeed. Oakland left-hander Tommy Milone didn’t always look perfect, but to some of the Seattle hitters, he sure seemed that way in his seven innings.
“This guy, Milone, he was throwing the ball perfectly,” Mariners rookie Jesus Montero said. “He was putting the ball on the corners really good, cutters in, fastballs outside, changeups good. He pitched a hell of a game today and it was really good for him.”
Montero was one of the few who consistently got wood on Milone, lining singles in the first and fourth. The Mariners got two on in each of those frames, but Justin Smoak grounded out to end the first and Miguel Olivo swung into a 5-4-3 double play that finished the fourth.
“I was watching the pitches,” Montero said. “I didn’t want to be in a hurry when I was hitting.”
Problem was, Milone hit his spots so well that most hitters who tried to wait him out quickly found themselves behind in the count. Milone retired 10 in a row after Olivo’s double play and didn’t give up another hit until a two-out single by Olivo in the seventh.
Smoak drew a two-out walk in the ninth off relief pitcher Ryan Cook, but Michael Saunders bounced out to end the game.
The loss dropped the Mariners a season-high 13 games under .500 and left them 5 ½ games behind the third-place A’s in the American League West.
In other words, the Mariners are rapidly letting the gap between them and the A’s get out of hand if they have any hopes of not finishing last in the division.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge raved about Ramirez’s “outstanding” focus and ability to keep his fastball down, which made his changeup better.
“You saw a complete performance by a young starting pitcher,” Wedge said. “He has something now that he can really work off of. Very similar to (Hector) Noesi’s performance (Sunday).”
But just like Noesi’s 2-0 shutout loss in San Diego on Sunday, it’s a performance unrewarded by victory. For now, the Mariners will keep piling up these victories on the moral side, hoping they eventually counter the losses that continue to build where it counts.
And that’s why, for now, the team will keep pushing the long-term vision of what it’s trying to do in lieu of a short-term that sees them flirting with one of the two worst records in the league.
“Where we’re at right now is, we’ve just got to get to the point where every area of our club is clicking at the same time,” Wedge said.
Until that happens, all the Mariners can do is look to the future and hope.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners.