Former Shorewood pitcher Blake Snell shut down the Mariners and ended Seattle's chance at a series sweep Sunday in Tampa Bay.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Mariners have won just five games this season when scoring three runs or less. Of course, they’ve won zero games when they’ve failed to score, which is what happened on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

Seattle missed a chance to complete not just a three-game series sweep, but a season-series sweep of Tampa Bay. The Mariner offense, which had scored seven runs in each of their three previous games, was shut down and shut out in a 3-0 loss to the Rays while facing a kid who was born in Seattle and grew up going to Safeco Field.

Blake Snell dominated the Mariners for his best outing in what has been an otherwise frustrating season. The former Shorewood standout tossed seven shutout innings, allowing two hits with two walks and eight strikeouts.

“You have to give a lot of credit to Blake Snell,” manager Scott Servais said. “He has really good stuff and he had it all working today. We got beat.”
A lanky left-hander with a mid- 90s mph fastball, a biting slider, a big breaking curveball and a good changeup, Snell has been projected for stardom in an organization that cultivates outstanding starting pitchers. He was rated the No. 12 overall prospect in baseball coming into 2016 by Baseball America. He debuted at Yankee Stadium at 23.

But like many pitchers who move to the big leagues quickly, he struggled as the league adjusted to him. This year has been a grind. He made the rotation out of spring training as expected, but went 0-4 with a 4.71 ERA in his first eight starts. Having four above-average pitches mattered little when he couldn’t command them.

He was demoted to Class AAA Durham to try to correct some mechanical issues that led to his struggles. Snell dominated there, posting a 5-0 record with a 2.66 ERA. But that success didn’t translate to immediate success upon his return to the big leagues in late June. Snell went 1-2 with a 4.85 ERA in his next eight starts.

Still, he put it all together Sunday.

“I wish it would have come together a lot sooner, but I feel really good about where I’m at,” Snell said. “I just have to keep working and getting better.”
The Mariners knew that Snell’s record 1-6 record and 4.78 ERA wasn’t completely indicative of what he was capable of doing.

“He’s one of their top prospects,” Servais said. “We’ve seen him before. You can get to him early sometimes if you can run his pitch count up. But he had three really good pitches today. When the changeup is that big of a weapon for him, it’s tough when he’s throwing 95 mph. We thought we could get something going, but he was really tough today.”

The Mariners had minimal hard contact with just two singles off him and only one runner reached scoring position. That came in the seventh inning when he gave up a one-out single to Robinson Cano and walked Mitch Haniger with two outs. But with his pitch count nearing 100, he got his former teammate, Taylor Motter, to ground into a force out to end his inning and his outing.

“I’ve seen Blake phenomenal and I’ve seen Blake bad,” Motter said. “When he has stuff like he did, he’s a pretty good pitcher.”

What made him effective?

“He was throwing strikes,” Motter said. “When I’ve seen him bad, he isn’t throwing strikes. He lives with his fastball, changeup and that 12-6 curveball is pretty good. Today he was able to get the fastball over for a strike, with that changeup. If you can get a deep count against him, he may leave you one to hit.”

The lack of offense from the Mariners wasted a solid start from Yovani Gallardo, who allowed three runs in
61 / 3 innings.

Gallardo made three regrettable pitches in the game. He left a 2-0 fastball over the middle of he plate to the first batter of the game — Kevin Kiermaier, who hammered it for a homer to center. It’s a mistake he’s made in the past three outings, giving up homers to the first batter of the game. Mariners pitchers have given up 14 leadoff homers to start games this season.

“It’s not like they’re bad pitches,” Gallardo said of the homers. “Not much I can do other than start making quality pitches from the first pitch of the game, make them even better.”

From there, Gallardo worked the next five innings without allowing a run while working around a leadoff triple in the third inning.

The two other lamentable pitches came in a seventh inning he wouldn’t finish. Gallardo hit Jesus Sucre with a 1-2 fastball to start the inning. And with one out and facing his last batter, Gallardo left a 2-2 fastball over the outer half of the plate that light-hitting Adeiny Hechavarria drove over the wall in right center for a 3-0 lead. It was Hechavarria third homer of the season.

“In that situation, we aren’t trying to get beat pull side,” Gallardo said. “So what happens, he hits one out to right-center. It was already frustrating hitting Sucre with two strikes.”

The added two runs mattered little with the Rays bullpen working two scoreless innings to end it.

Seattle, now 1½ games behind in the wild-card race, heads to Atlanta for the second stop in the team’s two-week, four-city road trip.