For four frustrating innings, it was more of the same for the Mariners against Jose Quintana.
The White Sox left-hander picked up where he left off in his July start against the Mariners, using a low-90s fastball, sharp slider and good command to frustrate Seattle hitters.
Coupled with that previous start of 72/3 shutout innings on July 5, Quintana was working on 12 straight scoreless innings when Mike Zunino and his freakish strength put an end to the Mariners’ misery in the fifth inning.
With a 2-0 count and runners on first and second, Zunino gave yet another tantalizing display of his power potential, driving an outside fastball deep into the right-field stands for a three-run homer, powering the Mariners to a 4-1 win.
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It was Seattle’s fourth straight win and its seventh victory in its past 10 games. The Mariners (61-54) improved to 45-10 in games that they score four runs or more.
“Guys are feeling pretty good,” Zunino said. “We know if we just score a few that we have a good chance to win with our pitching staff and bullpen.”
And if the Mariners continue to get homers and production form Zunino, expect that win total to grow.
The Mariners are far from a powerful lineup — ranking in the lower half of the American League in home runs with 94 — but the young catcher can drive the ball out of the park.
“He’s as strong as most guys in the league,” M’s manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s a well-developed young man. And he’s probably going to get stronger.”
Zunino’s 18 homers has him tied with Cincinnati’s Devin Mesoraco for the most by a catcher in the majors. It’s the second-most by a catcher in a season in franchise history. Miguel Olivo hit 19 in 2011.
Quintana cruised through four innings, allowing just two hits with his teammates giving him a 1-0 lead. But he walked Chris Denorfia to start the fifth inning, which left him shaking his head in disgust. His frustration grew when third baseman Conor Gillaspie dropped a routine pop-up by Logan Morrison to put runners on first and second.
Quintana then fell behind 2-0 to Zunino on two pitches well out of the zone. Knowing Quintana didn’t want to run the risk of loading the bases, Zunino looked for a fastball and got it.
“I barreled it up well,” Zunino said. “I felt like the ball was traveling that way a little bit better than to left.”
But he didn’t need wind to push it out. That’s been the case with most of his home runs. They are no-doubters. But the power to right field makes him special as a right-handed hitter.
“When I’m going good, I feel like right-center to right field is a good comfort blanket for me,” he said. “It’s takes a little while to trust yourself to let the ball travel and get deep. But I feel like I’m on the right path.”
It turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.
The Mariners tacked on another run that inning, loading the bases against a flustered Quintana and getting a sacrifice fly from Kendrys Morales to score Chris Taylor from third.
A 4-1 lead? Well that was plenty for starter Hisashi Iwakuma and the Seattle bullpen.
Iwakuma worked seven innings, giving up one run on five hits with no walks. He did that despite having subpar command of all of his off-speed pitches, including his best pitch — the split-finger fastball.
“I didn’t have good stuff today,” he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I couldn’t command each of my pitches. I was able to execute when I needed to.”
His lone run allowed came in the fourth inning. Dayan Viciedo, who is as strong as Zunino, if not stronger, drove the first pitch he saw from Iwakuma deep into the seats in right-center field. It was Viciedo’s second homer of the series, and his third homer in as many games. It was also one of the few pitches that had some movement — a sinker off the outside part of the plate.
“I was able to command that pitch, but he put a good swing on that,” Iwakuma said.
But that was all the White Sox mustered against Iwakuma. He retired 10 of the next 11 batters to improve to 10-6 and lower his earned-run average to 2.86. He joins teammates Felix Hernandez (12-3) and Chris Young (10-6) with double-figure wins.
“He gave us seven solid innings,” McClendon said.