From pitching a shutout in their previous game to being shut out in a dominant fashion Monday night, the Mariners had the harsh reminder they were facing better competition in this three-game series metaphorically shoved down their throats by a series of unhittable fastballs from the Chicago White Sox and their crew of flame-throwing pitchers.
With a young nucleus from a rebuilding plan started in 2015, and the additions of quality free-agent players, the White Sox believe they are something more than just a wild-card contender. And they offered a few examples as to why in a 6-0 victory over the Mariners that felt more lopsided than the score.
“Not our night,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “We got shut down offensively. Those nights happen, unfortunately. But the White Sox have a good ballclub. We knew that coming into the series. They’ve got power and they’ve got power arms in their pitching staff, so we’re gonna make some adjustments and get back after it tomorrow.”
A trio of pitchers combined to hold the Mariners scoreless while allowing three hits and striking out 15 batters.
Left-hander Carlos Rodon, who is the No. 5 pitcher in the White Sox rotation, used a mixture of hard fastballs in on the hands of right-handed hitters, nasty sliders to the left-handed hitters and just enough lack of control to make Seattle hitters wary and waving meekly at pitches.
“Rodon had really good stuff,” Servais said. “Really good fastball mixed in with his breaking pitches. He overpowered us at times tonight with the fastballs he threw up in the zone.”
Rodon, the No. 3 overall choice in the 2014 draft, has never quite reached his expected potential due largely to an assortment of injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2019. The White Sox non-tendered Rodon this offseason and he signed a one-year, $3 million contract to remain in the organization.
With his arm finally healthy, a change to his offseason conditioning and some help with his mechanics and delivery from first-year pitching coach Ethan Katz, a former Mariners minor-league pitching coach, Rodon is starting to resemble the pitcher people projected when he dominated at North Carolina State.
Rodon worked five innings, allowing just two hits with three walks, two hit-batters and nine strikeouts. One of the hits was a bloop double by Mitch Haniger in the first inning and the other was a soft line drive to left from J.P. Crawford to start the third. Both times, he worked out of the inning without allowing a run, notching key strikeouts.
He did find serious trouble in the fourth when he lost his release point and walked Dylan Moore, Tom Murphy and Jake Fraley. It drew a mound visit from Katz.
For some reason, Sam Haggerty, who was making his first start of the season, swung at the first pitch he saw from Rodon. It resulted in broken-bat ground ball to third and a force out at home. Rodon then struck out Crawford to escape the bases-loaded jam.
Once Rodon’s night was finished, the White Sox turned to talented pitching prospect Michael Kopech, who pitched two scoreless innings, using a fastball that sat around 96-97 mph and right-hander Jose Ruiz, who pitched the final two innings, using a his high-90s fastball to not allow a baserunner.
Seattle didn’t get quite the same support from its starter, Justus Sheffield.
Facing a lineup that didn’t have former batting champ Tim Anderson or slugging outfielder Eloy Jimenez, Sheffield still saw the Sox roll out a group of all right-handed or switch hitters, many of whom mash left-handed pitching, Sheffield was already going to have a difficult time finding success. But shaky command and lack of feel with his pitches made it even worse.
“Definitely, I think I let my emotions get the best of me tonight,” Sheffield said. “I wasn’t getting ahead like I wanted to and I wasn’t attacking the zone the way I wanted to. I pretty much wasn’t landing the offspeed pitches for strikes.”
Sheffield didn’t work one clean inning. He walked the first hitter of the game, setting a trend of constant traffic on the bases. While he was able to get out of that frame unscathed, he would allow runs in three of the next four innings.
In the second, Sheffield hung a slider to Yasmani Grandal on an 0-2 count. The mistake pitch was crushed into the Mariners’ bullpen for a solo homer and a 1-0 Chicago lead.
Sheffield’s outing started to really crater in the third when his defense let him down. After allowing a leadoff single to Yermin Mercedes, Sheffield appeared to get a much-needed double-play ball to Kyle Seager. But the former Gold Glove third baseman mishandled the ball on what should have been a routine double play. With no outs, Leury Garcia dropped a bunt down and the ball bounced awkwardly off the plate and didn’t allow catcher Tom Muprhy to make a play on it, loading the bases. Sheffield then forced a run across when he hit Andrew Vaughn in the foot to make it 2-0. Light-hitting No. 9 hitter Billy Hamilton hit a line drive up the middle to score another run and the Mariners allowed another run to score to get a double play up the middle that made it 4-0
Chicago picked up two more runs off Sheffield in the fifth on a two-run single from Mercedes, who had eight hits in his first eight at-bats to start this season and was named the American League player of the week. Mercedes finished with three hits on the night and has 12 hits in his first four games of the season.
Sheffield’s final line: five innings pitched, six runs allowed (four earned) on eight hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Of his 92 pitches, just 54 pitches were strikes. Of the 26 batters he faced, he threw first-pitch strikes to just 12.
“That just can’t happen,” he said. “I have to get ahead. And when I don’t get ahead, it’s going to turn into nights like this where it’s a battle and I have to fight back into counts.”