The defense cost the Mariners and Yusei Kikuchi a lead and a chance at a win while the bullpen made sure the looming loss stayed that way.
When the obituary for the Mariners’ 2019 season is written – well, it probably could’ve been written weeks ago – the lethargic and inconsistent defense and the unpredictable and unproductive bullpen, both expected problems before a game was ever played, will be listed as the main causes of its early extermination.
On a night when the up-and-down season of Yusei Kikuchi took an upward push in his final start before the All-Star break, the Mariners’ two main maladies provided yet another hindrance. Toss in a listless offense that mustered only five hits and didn’t provide much of a threat, and you get a 5-2 loss to the Oakland A’s.
After winning back-to-back series against the Orioles and Brewers, the Mariners have now lost seven out of their last eight games.
“Yusei threw the ball really well tonight,” manager Scott Servais said. “He had good stuff as far as his velocity. I think it was the best sequencing of his pitches we’d seen from him all year. He mixed in some really effective changeups, which is becoming another weapon for him. He was very efficient and getting after them. Really good outing. Unfortunately we didn’t do enough offensively to give him a chance to win the ball game.”
Kikuchi delivered his best outing since the first weeks of May, pitching seven innings and allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He was rewarded with a loss to fall to 4-6 on the season.
“I haven’t been having good starts these last few starts, but these last two games I’ve been feeling pretty good and I wanted to end the first half of the season on a good note,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak.
Kikuchi pitched with a confidence and rhythm that he’d been trying to relocate for weeks. He exhibited a fastball with life, velocity and command that allowed his breaking pitches to be more effective.
“Strike one is huge and he was ahead in the count most of the night with a lot of really good fastballs,” Servais said.
More importantly, you could tell Kikuchi was feeling it on the mound. He attacked hitters with emotion and aggressiveness instead some of the passive pitching he’d displayed during his struggles.
“When his timing is right mechanically, and the ball is coming out good and he’s really getting down the mound and having a lot of finish to his pitches, he feels it,” Servais said. “He knows right away he’s going to have a good night.”
Kikuchi’s increased usage of his changeup and the changing of pitch sequences was needed since this was his fourth time facing Oakland.
“Within the last five days, the coaches have been telling me to get the velo on my curveball a little higher and use my changeup more,” Kikuchi said. “It was my first pitching to Tom Murphy and he did a nice job sequencing pitches. So kudos to him.”
The A’s also noticed the difference.
“If you look at it overall, we have some guys with some numbers on him,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “I think we’ve won one on him, he’s beaten us twice. He pitches well with traffic it seems like. (He is) pitching a little differently now too, throwing more changeups and sliders. It was mostly fastballs and curveballs when we first saw him. Even though we had a couple of games against him, he made an adjustment today. Based on the fact that he’s pitching a little bit differently. He doesn’t get the chases on the slider if he’s not throwing it for a strike now. He’s doing a lot of things differently now, and the results would suggest that he’s doing the right stuff.”
Kikuchi had 2-1 lead going into the seventh inning when the Mariners defense, which had been relatively adequate in recent weeks, served up a reminder of its potential to sabotage success.
Following Matt Olson’s double into right, Khris Davis hit a soft liner into right field for a single. The not-so-speedy Olson had no intention of trying to score on the play and was stopping at third base. Well that is until Domingo Santana mishandled the bouncing ball, trying to ready himself to throw to the plate.
Seeing Santana’s folly in right, Olson broke for home.
After finally picking up the ball, Santana fired home. The throw wasn’t awful. But it bounced just in front of the plate. Catcher Tom Murphy didn’t get a piece of the ball as Olson slid into home. Kikuchi was backing up on the play, but Davis still advanced to second.
Santana was charged with two errors on the play as the A’s tied the game. The two errors gave him 12 on the season – nine in left field and three in right field – the most of any outfielder in Major League Baseball.
That extra-base advancement loomed large as Davis moved to third on Mark Canha’s ground-ball out to first. Moments later he sprinted home on Ramon Laureano’s sac fly to left field for what would be the decisive run.
“Certainly the error in right field messed up the inning,” Servais said. “It would have been first and third with nobody out and instead they got a run in and a man on second and it definitely affected the outcome of that inning.”
Any hope of a late rally ended in the ninth when Dan Altavilla walked back-to-back hitters with one out and gave up a two-out, two-run double to pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman that effectively put the game out of reach.
“We hadn’t seen that from Danny since he’s been back, he’d been throwing the ball really well,” Servais said. “They laid off some close pitches. But that’s what got us again tonight, the walks.”
The Mariners, more specifically Mallex Smith, manufactured a run in the first inning off Anderson for an early lead.
Smith led off the game with a single up the middle. With J.P. Crawford at the plate, Anderson tried a pickoff move to first base. Smith was stealing and left on Anderson’s first move. Smith looked like he would beat the throw to second from first baseman Matt Olson. But it didn’t matter since Olson’s throw was wide of the base and sailed into left-center field. Smith hustled to third on the error.
With Smith doing all the work, J.P. Crawford lifted a line drive into right field for a run-scoring sac fly to make it 1-0.
The A’s answered with their first run off Kikuchi in the third inning. Franklin Barreto, Oakland’s No. 9 hitter, golfed a low slider over the wall in left field for a solo homer that tied the game at 1-1.