After being the unlucky pitcher to start both games the Cleveland Indians were held hitless in this season, right-hander Zach Plesac looked like he might make the Mariners the second team to be no-hit twice this year.
For seven innings on a Thursday evening where coats weren’t needed and the increased number of fans allowed in the ballpark were noticeable, it looked as though Plesac might carve an unwanted niche into baseball history for the Mariners, who had been no-hit by John Means in their last game played at T-Mobile Park.
Has a team been no-hit in back-to-back home games?
J.P. Crawford ended the drama and the potential no-no bid with a leadoff single to start the eighth inning and Dylan Moore made sure Seattle wouldn’t be shut out with a two-run homer moments later.
The Mariners flirted with a stunning comeback, loading the bases in the bottom of the ninth with two outs when Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase walked three straight batters.
But Cleveland manager Terry Francona called on right-hander Bryan Shaw, who allowed 12 runs in six innings pitched as a member of the Mariners in 2020, to face Luis Torrens.
Shaw struck out Torrens to end the game. And with a 4-2 defeat, the Mariners’ losing streak went to five games.
“Frustrating night, offensively,” manager Scott Servais said. “I think that’s that’s where it starts right there. We’ve seen this game too many times recently, where we really don’t get anything going early on in the ballgame. Not to take anything away from from Plesac, he did throw the ball well, but we’ve got to be more competitive, certainly early in ballgames. We were able to put something together late and put some pressure on them, but certainly not enough tonight.”
Almost being no-hit for what seems like the 10th time this season and losing in such a tepid fashion was a downer on a night that started with excitement and hope — their top prospects, outfielder Jarred Kelenic and pitcher Logan Gilbert, made their much-anticipated Major League Baseball debuts.
Neither had a memorable night.
Gilbert pitched four innings, allowing four runs on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. He threw a total of 71 pitches, with 52 for strikes.
The talent was obvious — a fastball that touched 97 mph and breaking pitches that when located properly generated several swings and misses.
The execution and command necessary to find consistent success at the MLB level made brief appearances at various points over those four innings but were never maintained. Given the obvious nerves and adrenaline of pitching in his debut and the fact that this was his second official start of the 2021 season, it would be unfair to expect Gilbert to be polished and precise.
He cruised through the first inning with three fly ball outs on 12 pitches — all fastballs.
“The first thing, honestly, it was kind of like a whirlwind,” Gilbert said. “I don’t even remember it that well. But it was nice just to fill it up with fastballs and get some early contact and help me just know that I belong and help me kind of settle in a little bit.”
After using four fastballs to retire Eddie Rosario to start the second inning with a fly out to left, Gilbert threw his first breaking pitch of the game — a curveball — for a called strike to Franmil Reyes. Ahead 0-1 to the hulking Reyes, Gilbert threw his first slider of the game. It was a strike — but not a good one. The ball hung in the middle of the zone and Reyes crushed it over the wall in center for a solo homer and a 1-0 lead.
Cleveland tacked on another run in the inning when Josh Naylor singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch that catcher Luis Torrens should’ve blocked and scored on Jake Bauers’ two-out single to right.
The lead grew to 4-0 in the third inning. A one-out single from Amed Rosario was followed by a two-run homer from perennial MVP candidate Jose Ramirez. Gilbert challenged him with a 3-1 fastball and lost the confrontation.
“He got behind in the count,” Servais said “As they’re watching the game unfold, they realize that Logan really does lean on his fastball, he truly believes in it and he should, it’s a really effective pitch. But (Ramirez) got up on top of a 3-1 fastball and that’s what happens — Jose Ramirez is really good.”
Such is the life of a pitcher in the American League.
“Obviously, I made some mistakes and they make you pay for it,” he said. “Definitely don’t get away with all the mistakes that maybe I did coming up. And of course, just falling behind in the count, they are usually gonna make you pay for it. So when I did leave pitches out over the middle of the plate, more often than not they took advantage of them.”
Batting leadoff, Kelenic said before the game that if Plesac gave him “a cookie” on his first pitch of the game, he’d have to take a swing at it.
Plesac got the pitch over the middle but Kelenic was just a little ahead — perhaps due to adrenaline — and hit a line drive off the end of the bat toward right. The ball looked like it might carry into the seats near the right-field line, giving Kelenic another chance. But right fielder Josh Naylor made a brilliant catch, diving into the stands for the first out.
Kelenic finished hitless on the night, striking out in his second plate appearance, grounding out in his third plate appearance and flying out to center in his final trip to the plate.
The Mariners’ bullpen produced five innings of scoreless relief — two each from Drew Steckenrider and Robert Dugger and a scoreless ninth from Erik Swanson — to allow for a comeback.
But waiting to get a hit till the eighth is a tough way to win games. Servais was clearly frustrated with what has been a trend of late.
“We are not hitting the ball, first of all,” Servais said. “We aren’t squaring up a ton pitches. I think it’s different things for different guys. Some guys maybe are a little bit too passive. Other guys maybe a little too aggressive. It’s not just a blanket you can throw over the whole group, but it needs to improve.”
The good at-bats late in the game have to come throughout the game.
“It’s just the competitiveness of it,” Servais said. “We finally got a few hits there in the eighth. You grind through some at-bats on a guy throwing 101 mph out there in the ninth and you look up, you’ve got a chance to tie the ballgame and possibly win it. We need to have that intensity earlier in the game. We should be able to do that. It’s showing up later. It should be there earlier.”