It was a different type of neck irritant that helped snap Seattle’s four-game winning streak in a 6-3 loss to the Astros on Friday night.
HOUSTON — The Astros have been a persistent pain in the neck for the Mariners for much of the past few seasons. But it was a different type of neck irritant that helped snap Seattle’s four-game winning streak in a 6-3 loss to the Astros on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
Mariners starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, the team’s most consistently successful starter this season, had his start end prematurely because of spasms in the left side of his neck, forcing manager Scott Servais to scramble with relief pitchers for the remaining seven innings.
Walker was lifted after just two innings and 35 pitches, having allowed three runs (one earned) on two hits — both homers — with no walks or strikeouts.
He woke up Friday morning with a stiff neck and notified Servais of the problem. The neck never loosened despite the efforts of the Mariners’ training staff.
Most Read Sports Stories
- The Seahawks have questions as training camp opens, we have some answers | Analysis
- Storm’s Natasha Howard denies domestic-abuse allegations, accuses wife of stabbing her and taking nearly $600,000
- Famously calm Edgar Martinez begins to feel nerves ahead of long-awaited Hall of Fame induction | Larry Stone
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- Mike Leake gets three outs away from a perfect game as Mariners club Angels VIEW
“I probably just slept wrong,” he said. “I’ve had it before. In the minor leagues, I had it once or twice.”
Asked if he would be able to make his next start, he didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“I should be fine,” he said.
Walker didn’t look right from the start with a fastball that sat around 91-92 mph and only touched 94 mph once with location that was anything but pinpoint.
“I just couldn’t turn, couldn’t finish, couldn’t really use my legs or anything so I was just using all arm out there,” he said. “It’s not really good trying to pitch five or six innings using all arm.”
With two outs in the first inning, Carlos Correa went down and golfed a 2-2 changeup over the wall in right-center for his fifth homer of the season to give Houston a 1-0 lead.
Walker’s defense let him down in the second inning. Ketel Marte bobbled the transfer on a routine grounder from Evan Gattis and then threw it away for a free base runner.
With two outs, Walker left a cut fastball up in the zone that Marwin Gonzalez yanked over the wall in right field for a two-run homer and a three-run lead.
When Walker returned to the dugout after the second inning, Mayckol Guaipe began warming in the bullpen. It set off social-media panic for Mariners fans, but later in the inning the medical staff announced it was only neck spasms and nothing more serious.
“I give Taijuan a lot of credit,” Servais said. “He went out there and tried to get loose in the bullpen, and it wasn’t great there. Then, obviously, when he got in the game, it wouldn’t loosen up. I just thought it was best for his well-being, long-term health here and for us as well just to get him out of there. He tried to gut it out — it just didn’t happen.”
Servais could see the issues with the mechanics making him ineffective. It was an easy choice to pull him.
“It was very clear to me that he was not comfortable,” Servais said. “The ball wasn’t coming out. At this point in the season, where we’re at, he’s too valuable. We’re not taking a chance. His velocity was down, all his stuff was down.”
Even Astros manager A.J. Hinch noticed in the opposing dugout.
“His velocity wasn’t as high in the first inning as it had been in Seattle, and he looked a little tentative,” Hinch said. “He looked uncomfortable. I didn’t really know what it was. But he wasn’t getting down the hill. He wasn’t as energetic as he was. He was feeling pretty good when we faced him in Seattle. So there was something that was going on. We didn’t really know what. And he wasn’t letting it loose, and we obviously capitalized early.”
Guaipe pitched scoreless innings in the third and fourth, but tired in the fifth, giving up a pair of runs on a run-scoring single from Correa and a sacrifice fly from Colby Rasmus.
“He was starting to fatigue,” Servais said. “That’s the most pitches he had thrown this season. But that’s the situation we were in.”
The Mariners did little against Astros starter Doug Fister in the first six innings, falling behind 5-0.
But they finally got to him in the seventh, loading the bases with one out on a hit by pitch for Nelson Cruz, a double from Kyle Seager and an Adam Lind walk.
Hinch brought in right-handed specialist Pat Neshek to face Chris Iannetta. The move worked — sort of. Iannetta hit a screamer of a low liner toward left field, but it was nabbed out of the air by a diving and fully extended Correa for a highlight-reel play.
Seattle still was able to capitalize moments later. Marte made up for the earlier error, yanking a line drive into the right-field corner for a bases-clearing triple to cut the lead to 5-3.
“When I hit the ball, I was thinking (triple),” he said. “I just tried to use my legs. In that situation, you have to make a good swing and put the ball in play.”
But there would be no further late-inning magic for Seattle.