Larry Stone: After strong three innings to start, Mariners ace struggles on rainy mound and allows seven runs, including Mark Teixeira’s grand slam.
So many strands of the Mariners’ untoward past, uneven present and uncertain future came together Monday at Safeco Field, it was hard to know where to begin to weave it all together.
It was angst, anger and awe all in one fell swoop. On a rainy night in Seattle – ominously so — you could boo Alex Rodriguez, rue the Michael Pineda trade, stew over the Mariners’ sluggish start, and ooh and ahhh over Felix Hernandez.
At least, the open-roof version of their ace, who was sublime for three innings before it all came crashing down in the slop of the Safeco Field mound.
Manager Lloyd McClendon had shaken up the Mariners’ lineup in an attempt, in his words, to jump-start his plodding team. But it was just another maddening night in what so far has been an utterly frustrating season.
Hernandez looked spectacularly good early, mowing down the Yankees on a mere 21 pitches for three innings. But a midgame squall, which began with the roof still agape, rendered a muddy mound that seemed to throw the King off kilter in the fourth.
The roof eventually closed, but not before Hernandez was stalking uncomfortably around the hill, scraping his cleats with a stick, trying to find his footing and looking uncharacteristically out of sorts.
Hernandez refused to blame the mound (“I just made a lot of mistakes.”). But by the time Hernandez left the game in the fifth, the Yankees had scored seven runs, four of them on a grand slam by noted Mariner (and Hernandez) killer Mark Teixeira. Hernandez, who threw 18 strikes on his first 21 pitches, walked five in the span of eight batters to close out his stint, a shocking loss of command.
This was one of those nights that threatened to rise above the mundane. For one thing, the Yankees were in town, and that still counts for something – even though this version of the Bronx Bombers is a flawed team. Not unlike the Mariners, for that matter.
The pitching matchup also hinted of a classic. Hernandez has a history of mowing down the Yankees, while Pineda no doubt was itching to show his former team – and his mentor, Hernandez – what he has become. Pineda’s ratio of 76 strikeouts to seven walks is a painful reminder of what sort of electric arm Jack Zduriencik dealt away for Tacoma-laden Jesus Montero in what thus far has been another fruitless attempt at beefing up the offense.
But in the end, the 7-2 loss was just another statement that the jump start the Mariners need will take more than merely a bit of batting-order roulette. We have nearly reached the one-third point of the season without the steady acceleration in the standings the Mariners keep promising is right around the corner.
“Listen, I like my club,’’ McClendon insisted before the game. “I like the way they go about their business. The way they show up every day. They’re very resilient. They’re a tough group. I think they’re built to win.
“We haven’t played our best baseball. Not even close to it. We showed glimpses of what we can do. And at the same time, no one’s run away from us in this division. I think the most important thing for us now is to not look at the standings and just understand we have a lot of baseball left and show up every day.”
But the Mariners’ issues are mounting. They sit 28th in the majors in runs scored, with struggling batters dotting their lineup. That includes the former Yankee star Robinson Cano, who brought a pedestrian .251/.295/.344 line into the game and hit into a rally-killing double play in the third en route to another 0 for 4.
“The guys that are supposed to perform, they’ve got to perform,’’ McClendon said. “The fact is, if Robby Cano, (Nelson) Cruz and (Kyle) Seager don’t hit, then we’re not going to win. And if they continue not to hit, you’ll be talking to someone else, and I’ll be driving a garbage truck. That’s just the way it goes.”
The Mariners are dealing with injuries to two of their five projected starters, a bullpen that has been shakier than expected, and a troubling lack of depth.
The pressure will be mounting on Jack Zduriencik to make a move before this once-promising season slips completely off the rails. McClendon says they discuss moves every day, but he noted that it’s more complicated than it appears.
“You have to be smart about what you do and how you do it and when you do it,’’ he said. “I remind people, last year we were 26-28 around this time and the world was coming to an end.
“You have to show some patience. We’re a much more talented club than we were last year. Expectations are a lot higher than they were last year. I think this club will hit its stride and play the kind of baseball we’re capable of playing.”
Perhaps they will. But to paraphrase a great Yankee, Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early. And on a night the King looked regal for a brief, shining moment, their stride got stuck in the mud.