HOUSTON — In a search for small victories in what was an otherwise abysmal road trip, and a sobering reality check following a 7-2 homestand, these two can be found: The nine-game trip has mercifully ended and the Mariners didn’t get completely shut out while being swept in a three-game series by the Astros.
Facing the very real possibility of making unwanted club history, the Mariners avoided the dubious distinction of being the first team held scoreless for three consecutive games by scoring two runs off Astros starter Justin Verlander in a 7-2 loss at Minute Maid Park.
The Mariners finished the nine-game road trip 2-7, falling to 12-13 on the season. The Mariners are 4-26 at Minute Maid Park since the start of the 2019 season.
“It’s time to go home,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said with a weary tone. “It was a rough road trip. But we’ll get back home and get back after it tomorrow.”
Eugenio Suarez ended the Mariners’ stretch of 24 straight innings without a run by smashing a curveball from Verlander off the train tracks atop the wall in left-center for a two-run homer. It was the Mariners’ first extra-base hit of the series. Their last extra-base hit was Julio Rodriguez’s first MLB homer in Miami on Sunday.
“We didn’t do much offensively here the whole series, obviously,” Servais said. “Thankfully, Geno ran into one and got us on the board there.
For Suarez, it was just his second hit of the road trip, breaking a streak of 26 plate appearances (24 at-bats) without a hit.
His two-run homer cut the Mariners’ deficit from seven runs to five, making the loss slightly more palatable — like going from raw vegetables to raw vegetables with ranch dressing.
“We got beat, not a good series for us,” Servais said. “There is no way to sugarcoat it. It’s just where we’re at. We got a good team, but we’re not playing particularly great right now.”
Perhaps the bigger issue coming from the loss is the continued struggles of rookie right-hander Matt Brash.
Brash pitched three innings, allowing four runs on six hits with four walks and one strikeout. Beyond the runs allowed, the hits given up and the walks issued, the pitch inefficiency and the adjustments made by opposing hitters have been glaring.
Teams know Brash doesn’t throw enough pitches in the strike zone, particularly early in counts, to have success and doesn’t have the command to pinpoint a quality strike when he needs to throw one. Instead, too many of those strikes are in the middle of the plate. Regardless of their movement or speed, MLB hitters, particularly a veteran group such as the Astros, will mash them.
“Struggle for Matt again today, obviously, command-wise,” Servais said. “Having pitched against the Astros earlier in the season, they kind of knew what to expect. They waited him out a little bit and got some hits with runners in scoring position.”
Brash knows what teams are doing to him. It’s a matter of executing properly to force them out of the game plan.
“Probably one of my biggest issues is just throwing not enough strikes to get chases,” he said. “When they see spin, they’re just taking it because they know I’m not landing it for a strike the majority of the time.”
After retiring the first two batters of his outing, Brash gave up a single to Alex Bregman and walked Yordan Alvarez. He appeared to have struck out Yuli Gurriel to end the inning, but home-plate umpire Stu Scheurwater called the 1-2 fastball on the outside corner a ball. On the next pitch, Gurriel doubled into right field to score Bregman for a 1-0 lead.
Brash’s start fell apart in the second inning.
A leadoff single from Aledmys Diaz and back-to-back walks with one out loaded the bases for veteran hitter Michael Brantley. After falling behind 1-2, Brantley fouled off two fastballs and looped a misplaced breaking ball into center for a two-run single. Bregman followed with a hard single to left to score another run to make it 4-0.
“They make you throw strikes especially with your off-speed,” he said. “I feel like that’s what I struggled with today was my off-speed. It kind of narrows their approach on me. They’re just good hitters and very patient. When you make a mistake, they hit it.”
The Mariners understood that starting a rookie who had barely pitched at the Class AA level could run into struggles.
“He’s learning,” Servais said. “It’s hard lessons in this league when you’re playing against veteran teams. He’s a young pitcher who doesn’t have many professional innings under his belt. We’ve given him an opportunity here, and we know there’s gonna be some bumps in the road. He’ll learn and he’ll be better for it down the road. But right now, he’s kind of in a tough spot.”
The Mariners are also in a tough spot. Can they keep rolling Brash out every fifth day given his struggles, or do they make a change?
Brash is scheduled to start Monday vs. the Phillies at T-Mobile Park. If the Mariners do make a change, they would do it immediately, so they could have an extra reliever for the next four games before adding a starter.
The expected replacement is top prospect George Kirby, who has been dominant with Class AA Arkansas. Kirby pitched Wednesday and is scheduled to pitch Saturday for the Travelers. It would give him a few extra days of rest if the Mariners decide to go that route. The Mariners are trying to monitor Kirby’s innings total, knowing they would call him up at some point this season but understanding he wouldn’t pitch more than 110 innings this season.
The Mariners could also make a bullpen start in that spot or call up a veteran arm from Class AAA Tacoma.
The Mariners could also give Brash one more start and then make a decision, using the off-day on May 12 — their first in 16 games — to regroup and reset the rotation.
“It’s challenging for young players coming into the league,” Servais said. “You have to be patient with them, but you want to see growth. And when you stop seeing growth, and then it’s, ‘Where are we at, and do we need to take a step back?’ We’ll continue to monitor where he’s at. He’s a very young player, very inexperienced player and you want to do what’s best for the player.”