The pop of the 96-mph fastball that rocketed past Max Kepler’s bat and slammed into Cal Raleigh’s catcher’s mitt echoed Tuesday night throughout a sparsely attended T-Mobile Park. Before the crowd of 13,019 could applaud his accomplishment, another pop of similar decibel-level could be heard.
That was Logan Gilbert celebrating the inning-ending punch out by slapping the palm of his glove with the same vicious intent as the pitch he’d just thrown.
It would be his final pitch of the night.
His work as the Mariners’ best starting pitcher in their rotation was finished after six scoreless innings and 89 pitches.
Given more run support than expected from a patchwork lineup that was missing J.P. Crawford due to a late scratch because of flu-like symptoms and Jesse Winker due to a manager’s decision, Gilbert delivered another strong outing in a season full of them, leading the Mariners to a 5-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Relievers Erik Swanson, Diego Castillo and Matt Festa each tossed scoreless frames to preserve the Mariners’ third shutout of the season.
“I often say it starts with the guy on the bump,” manager Scott Servais said. “I can’t say enough about the job Logan Gilbert continues to do. He’s putting together what looks to me like maybe an All-Star type of season. He’s certainly distinguishing himself as one of the better starters in this league and was just awesome again tonight.”
Seattle can notch a series win over the American League Central leaders Wednesday afternoon with lefty Marco Gonzales squaring off against veteran right-hander Sonny Gray.
When Gilbert strode to the mound in the top of the first, he did so with the understanding that the Mariners had mustered minimal offense over the past four games and had lost three of their past four.
Like other times this season, he ended the losing.
Over six innings pitched, he gave up just four hits — three singles and a double — with a walk and six strikeouts.
He allowed just two runners to reach second base. The last came in that sixth inning when Carlos Correa singled with two outs to push Luis Arraez to second and bring Kepler to the plate.
Gilbert fell behind 3-0 to the big lefty but came back with three straight fastballs: 95 mph on the outside corner for a called strike, 95 mph again on the outside corner for a called strike and then 96 mph over the middle of the plate but at the upper quadrant of the zone.
“At first, I was just frustrated,” he said. “So I kind of took a second off the mound. I thought we might have went to slider there, but I just went with Cal. He wanted three fastballs. That was really a situation where I was trying to force contact and make them put it in play and not give up free bases. It was kind of just a challenge fastball there at the end.”
Servais loved to see the intensity against Kepler and after it.
“Logan is not afraid to show some emotion out there,” Servais said. “I encourage all of our guys to do that. It was a big moment in the game. We needed him to get through it. And he just went: ‘It’s 3-0? Here it is. I’ve got a really good fastball. I dare you.’ And he got it done.”
The outing improved Gilbert to 7-2 on the season and lowered his ERA to 2.22, which ranks in the top among qualified starters in Major League Baseball
The Mariners are 9-4 in games started by Gilbert.
Even more impressive is when those wins have come — when the Mariners were struggling.
On April 14, he snapped the Mariners’ four-game losing streak by beating the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. He ended another four-game losing streak for his team May 1, beating the Marlins. Four of his wins have come after Mariners losses.
“His preparation is as good as any young pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Servais said. “He stays with his routine, what he does between starts, his body is in really good shape. He takes care of himself. He knows he needs to be ready to go on the days out there and a lot of times we have been scuffling. You are coming off a few-game losing streak, you need somebody to step up and shut it down and give us a chance to get on top and he typically does that.”
The Mariners provided more than enough run support.
Following Julio Rodriguez’s one-out double in the fourth inning — the Mariners first hit off Twins starter Joe Ryan — Eugenio Suarez crushed a 3-1 fastball into Edgar’s Cantina for a two-run homer.
An inning later, Ty France stepped to the plate with Dylan Moore on second base. Having struck out on fastballs in his first two at-bats, France watched Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson go to the mound.
Would he get more fastballs?
Nope, it was a first-pitch slider that hung in the middle of the zone.
France hammered it into the Twins bullpen for his 10th homer of the season.
“Honestly, I thought they were gonna come at me with all fastballs,” France said. “He blew me away in my first two at-bats with his fastball. So I was just trying to get on time for that. I was on time for the fastball but I was able to recognize spin and put a good swing on it.”
The duo of Moore and Sam Haggerty, playing in place of Crawford and Winker, added a run in the seventh.