There was no raking of Casey Mize’s face.
Less than 24 hours after the Mariners beat reigning American League Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, and shortstop J.P. Crawford said the amusing line, “I’m gonna rake your face” when asked about refusing to be intimidated by the top pitchers in Major League Baseball, Mize, one Detroit’s top pitching prospects, shut Seattle down with his best outing of the season.
The 24-year-old right-hander, who was the first overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Auburn, tossed a season-high 7 2/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits with three walks and seven strikeouts to stymie a Mariners’ offense that had started shown signs of hitting its way out of the label “worst offense in baseball.”
With a disappointing and somewhat lackluster 4-1 loss Monday night at T-Mobile Park, Seattle (21-21) saw its three-game winning streak end against the team with one of the worst records in baseball. Only the Twins (13-26) and Rockies, who lost to the Padres and fell to 15-27, have a worse record than the Tigers, who improved to 15-26.
And that unwanted label of worst offense in baseball is three-way pillow fight between the Mariners, Tigers and Indians — with none of the teams connecting.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t carry over any of the momentum we created in the last series,” manager Scott Servais said. “Mize shut us down tonight. We didn’t really get a ton of pressure on him at all as far as base runners or deep counts or really making him grind out there. Disappointed that offensively we couldn’t get much going tonight.”
Was it Mize or malaise with their approach at the plate?
“He’s got a good fastball — two seamer and a four seamer,” Servais said. “Coming into the game, his wipeout pitch had been his split-finger. I don’t think he maybe had as good of one as what he’s had in the past. But he located some sliders and he was effective. At the end of the day in this league, it is about results and he certainly handled us tonight pretty easily.”
The Mariners only run came on a solo homer from Tom Murphy in the eighth inning. Struggling for much of the season, he crushed a fastball for his fourth homer of the season.
“It definitely makes you feel good,” he said. “I feel like we had this conversation a few weeks ago as well. I give a lot of credit to (Jarred DeHart) and (Tim Laker) because they’re constantly trying to try to help me out and improve me and get me better. And I really, truly believe we’re on the right track right now. Those guys work as hard as anybody in the game, and they truly deserve a lot of credit, regardless how the team’s hitting right now.”
Seattle got a useful if not winning start from lefty Yusei Kikuchi.
On a night when they absolutely needed him to go at least five innings and preferably more, Kikuchi did what was required, though it wasn’t easy. He pitched six innings, allowing three runs on three hits with four walks and eight strikeouts. Per the qualifications of the stat – six innings pitched, three runs or fewer allowed – it is considered a “quality start.”
But to those who watched his outings, it was a quality four-inning finish, making up for two forgettable innings at the beginning that ultimately decided the game.
Facing a Tigers team that has struck out in 28.9% of its plate appearances this season –the highest rate in MLB — while only drawing walks in 8.1% with the third fewest homers hit in baseball, Kikuchi managed to walk hitters and give up homers in the first two innings.
After retiring the first two batters, he loaded the bases, allowing a single to Jeimer Candelario and walking Miguel Cabrera and Niko Goodrum. He did work out of the inning without allowing a run, but needed 29 pitches to do so. It wasn’t an ideal beginning to an outing where the bullpen only had about five pitchers available.
The second inning got no better. Kikuchi served up a mammoth solo homer to Eric Haase on a 1-0 cutter that stayed in the middle of the plate. Later with two outs, he walked Robbie Grossman after getting up 0-2 in the count. It proved costly when Jonathan Schoop, the next hitter, jumped on a 1-0 fastball, sending it into the seats in deep right-center for a 3-0 lead.
“My cutter’s been a very good and dependable pitch in all counts, especially to get ahead early in counts,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “Because I didn’t have that pitch, I did run into some trouble there in the first two innings.”
Perhaps it offered a jarring dose of reality to Kikuchi, who was trending toward disaster.
When Kikuchi struck out Candelario to end the inning, he had thrown 50 pitches and the possibility of a five-inning start seemed slim.
To his credit, he made the adjustment. Unable to command the cutter – his best pitch – he went to his fastball and relied on his slider and change-up. But more important, he started throwing strikes early in the count and working ahead. In his first 11 batters faced, Kikuchi threw just six first-pitch strikes and went to three-ball counts to six hitters. With the strikeout to end the second inning, it started a string of 11 consecutive batters retired by Kikuchi that featured nine first-pitch strikes.
Over his last four innings, he allowed just one base runner – a one-out walk in the sixth inning.
Leaving the game with only three innings for the fatigued bullpen to cover made it a successful outing despite the loss. And it would pay dividends for the final two games of this series.
A year ago, Kikuchi probably doesn’t work his way out of the situation. Two years ago, he might not have made it out of the second inning.
“No chance,” Servais said. “A ton of credit to him tonight for hanging in there and really keeping us in the game. He gave us a chance to win the ballgame at the end. You give up three runs over six innings and you should be right there.”