MINNEAPOLIS — The similarities to the 2021 season continued into the third game of 2022. Having prevailed in their first two games by one run, a staple of their 90-win success a year ago, the Mariners’ first loss was a lopsided drubbing that won’t do wonders for their run differential or fun differential.
Marco Gonzales’ first start of the season lasted just two innings — the second shortest in his Mariners career, second baseman Adam Frazier committed an error that led to four unearned runs and the Twins smashed six homers in an ugly 10-4 loss Sunday afternoon at Target Field.
“Not quite as fun today,” manager Scott Servais said. “The home run ball got us today. They are a good team and they’ve got a heck of a lineup with certainly all kinds of power. Marco wasn’t as sharp as he normally is and I was hoping we’d get a little bit more out of him, but I realized he didn’t have his ‘A’ game after they extended him in the first inning.”
Gonzales pitched just two innings, getting tagged for six runs (only two earned) on six hits, including three homers, with two walks and a strikeout. Of the 15 hitters he faced, he threw just five first-pitch strikes.
“He needs to pitch ahead in the count as much as anybody,” Servais said. “All our guys do. It’s controlling counts, getting ahead in the 0-0 and 1-1 counts and we didn’t do that today.”
It became very evident from his first few pitches that Gonzales lacked his typical command. Not blessed with overpowering velocity or stuff, it can lead to such outings. This was just the second time he failed to pitch into the third inning in 100 starts with the Mariners. The other came May 1, 2019, against the White Sox.
“It’s not the start I expected,” he said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed and looking to bounce back and move forward.”
Facing leadoff hitter Byron Buxton, perhaps the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, Gonzales got ahead in the count. But his 1-2 fastball at 89 mph that was supposed to drive up and in on Buxton’s hands didn’t get high enough or in enough. The supremely talented Buxton somehow kept his hands inside the pitch and got the barrel of his bat to it, sending a line drive over the wall in left field for a leadoff home run.
“I’ve had some trouble against him the past few times I’ve faced him,” Gonzales admitted. “He’s a good player and I can’t seem to figure him out right now.”
Indeed, their last meeting was just over a year ago at Target Field — April 8, 2021 — and Buxton had a double and solo homer off Gonzales in three plate appearances.
Even after allowing back-to-back one-out singles, Gonzales should’ve been out of the inning with one run allowed. He got Miguel Sano to line out to left for the second out and seemed to have the third out when Alex Kirilloff hit a routine ground ball to the right side of the infield. But Frazier, who was playing deep on the outfield grass, didn’t get a great read to charge with Gio Urshela, the runner at first, waiting to jump over the ball with spread legs. Frazier mishandled the routine play for an error that left Kirilloff safe at first and the based loaded.
“The ball hit the grass and kind of bounced up on me,” Frazier said. “The grass in that area is really hard. But I should’ve made it.”
The bases didn’t stay loaded for long. A 2-2 changeup from Gonzales that was supposed to stay low and away leaked onto the inner half of the plate. Gary Sanchez, who just missed a walkoff homer on opening day, crushed the mistake into the upper deck in left field for a grand slam.
“Unfortunately, it came back over the middle of the plate,” Gonzales said. “It was probably the right height, but over the plate and he put a good swing on it.”
Instead of being down 1-0, the Mariners were down 5-0 when the first inning finally ended with all nine Twins hitters stepping to the plate.
“We didn’t make a play there in the first inning and they get the big hit after that,” Servais said. “Then you get that big spread in the game.”
The bottom of the second started in the same manner as the bottom of the first with a Buxton homer. Gonzales left a 3-2 curveball up in the zone that Buxton yanked into the left-field seats for his third homer in two games and a 6-0 Twins lead.
Down six runs, the Mariners got back into the game in the top of the third.
J.P. Crawford led off with a double off Minnesota starter Bailey Ober and scored on Frazier’s RBI single to left.
With two outs, Mitch Haniger sent a flyball into the left-field seats for a three-run homer. Haniger’s second homer of the season cut the lead to 6-4.
With the game back in reach and Gonzales not trending toward fixing his command problems, Servais went to his bullpen, using the four members of the 10-man unit who had not pitched.
“Marco usually can make in-game adjustments,” Servais said. “He just wasn’t sharp with the curveball, the changeup and the location of the fastball. We did have extra guys in the bullpen today. So early in the season, give those guys a chance to pitch.”
Right-hander Matt Festa couldn’t avoid the homer barrage in his two innings of work, giving up a two-out solo homer to Max Kepler in the third inning and a solo blast to Jorge Polanco in the fourth inning.
After Erik Swanson provided 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, Yohan Ramirez entered the game with one out in the sixth inning. He struck out Buxton but served up a mammoth solo homer to Carlos Correa that landed in the third deck in left field and measured 458 feet.
The Twins tacked on another run off Ramirez when Sanchez doubled home a run. It was their first run in the three-game series that wasn’t the product of a homer. Minnesota scored its first 13 runs this season on eight homers, which, per the Elias Sports Bureau, is the most to start a season by any team since 1900.