A year and five days ago, in a time when masks were for surgeries and dental appointments, when fans could attend games, baseball was a 162-game season and life was not like it is right now, the Mariners were no-hit by four Houston Astros pitchers at Minute Maid Park. It was a fitting outcome to the domination by the Astros.
Perhaps more embarrassing for the Mariners, it was the second time they had been no-hit in the span of 23 days, suffering a similar fate by a cadre of Angels pitchers in Anaheim.
Fast forward to the empty confines of T-Mobile Park and a cool but comfortable Saturday evening in the Puget Sound, the Mariners flirted far too long with the possibility of being held hitless by the Colorado Rockies in a dismal 5-0 loss.
J.P. Crawford’s single up the middle with two outs in the sixth inning off reliever Jeff Hoffman rescued the Mariners from being the first team to be no-hit in this shortened 2020 season.
But that was their only hit. Yep, one hit and a total of four base runners in the game, only one of whom made it to second base.
“Not a whole lot to talk about tonight,” manager Scott Servais said quietly.
Well, yeah, not much to discuss one single. Though his dissatisfaction with the way this young team is following the organizational philosophy of “dominate the zone,” which was upgraded from the previous saying of “control the zone,” from the pitching and hitting standpoint is obvious.
“We’ve got to do a much better job as a team both pitching-wise and in the batter’s box of dominating the strike zone,” he said. “It has been a struggle for us recently and that’s why the results are bad.”
Servais went back to the football metaphor he’s often used about their strike zone philosophy.
“The line of scrimmage is at the strike zone and we’ve got to start winning it,” he said.
Four Rockies pitchers combined for the shutout that also included two walks and six strikeouts.
“I think we should’ve been more competitive than we were tonight in the batter’s box, but you have to give their guys credit,” Servais said.
The Rockies called up right-hander Ryan Castellani, the No. 18 prospect in their organization, to make the start and his major-league debut.
With a delivery that’s nearly identical to Nationals ace Max Scherzer, Castellani delivered a Scherzer-like outing, minus the intensity and histrionics, while working on a limited pitch count to make the no-hitter a possibility.
“Approach-wise, certainly a few of our young guys are struggling right now,” Servais said. “Give their young guy credit. A lot of rookies will come out in that first inning a little jittery. He did not.”
Using a fastball that topped out at 96 mph, Castellani got ground-ball outs — some well hit — and allowed two base runners in his final inning of work.
After working the first four innings perfect, he hit Kyle Seager with a pitch to start the fifth inning and walked Daniel Vogelbach to end his outing. Rockies manager Bud Black brought in Hoffman, who immediately got Evan White to hit a hard ground ball to first baseman David Murphy. It started a difficult 3-6-1 double play where Hoffman covered first, making a nice grab on an erratic throw to finish it. Tim Lopes then bounced out to Hoffman to end the Mariners’ best and only realistic scoring threat.
The Rockies’ offense was supplied by Charlie Blackmon, who might be the hottest hitter in baseball right now. Blackmon had three hits, including a bases-loaded, three-run double off rookie reliever Joey Gerber in a four-run fifth inning.
Lefty Anthony Misiewicz started the fifth, giving up a double and issuing a one-out walk. Servais brought in Gerber, who allowed a single to Trevor Story to load the bases. Blackmon ambushed a first-pitch fastball from Gerber, sending it off the wall and out of the reach of Mallex Smith’s leaping attempt for the out.
“Charlie might hit .400 or .500 this year,” Servais said. “He’s a tough out. He’s very aggressive when he gets his pitch in the zone. He’s a tough guy to put away with foul balls and he just keeps hanging in there.”
Blackmon has hit safely in his past 12 games and is batting .543 (25 for 46) with 11 runs, four doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI during that span. He leads all of baseball with 25 hits.
With two outs, Daniel Murphy added another run on an RBI single that scored Blackmon.
The Mariners got a solid start from lefty Nick Margevicius, who moved from the bullpen into the spot previously occupied by Kendall Graveman. With Graveman on the injured list with a neck issue and expected to be out for an extended period of time, Margevicius gave the Mariners some reassurance that he can handle the spot. The young lefty worked the first three inning scoreless and then allowed a single to Blackmon and a one-out single to Murphy that ended his outing at 61 pitches.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Servais said. “He was on a very strict pitch count. He hadn’t thrown over 40 pitches this year. “
Servais added: “He can make pitches and he’s certainly not afraid of attacking. I think he’s going to be a nice fit in our rotation going forward. He’s going to continue to get starts with Graveman being out. I have lot of confidence in him and like what I’ve seen so far.”
Margevicius made 12 starts with the Padres last season as a very inexperienced rookie. He felt more comfortable in his first start this season after spending time in the bullpen.
“Physically, I felt fine,” he said. “I just wanted to go as deep as I could in the game. I think I’m ready to keep increasing that volume.”