People can rattle off the names without looking up the numbers. Vlad Guerrero Sr., Mark Teixeira, Adrian Beltre and Jose Altuve quickly come to mind when discussing the hitters that have seemed to do the most damage against the Mariners.
But really, the first name mentioned should always be Mike Trout. And while baseball’s best player obviously puts up numbers against every team, playing against Seattle 19 times a season has allowed him to put up video game numbers off Mariners pitchers.
Coming into Tuesday night’s game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, Trout had played basically a season’s worth of games against the Mariners — 155 total — in his career. Over that span, he’d amassed a .322/.428/.641 slash line with 33 doubles, 10 triples, 41 homers and 107 RBI.
Yet in the Angels’ home opener, Seattle pitchers held him to one hit — a single late in the game — in five plate appearances with two strikeouts.
So that means the Mariners had a prime chance for their second victory of the 2020 season?
Uh, that would be … no.
Justus Sheffield’s first start of the season didn’t get out of the fourth inning and the Mariners’ bullpen made a bad situation almost unwatchable in a 10-2 loss.
Expectations were high for Sheffield coming into his season before baseball was shutdown due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. The 25 starts and 175 innings the Mariners were hoping to accumulate for him this season — allowing him to work through a multitude of situations and working without the fear of being sent down — has been sliced almost in half.
But an offseason of work on simplifying his mechanics, controlling his emotions and energy on the mound, going from a four-seam to a two-seam-fastball grip and improvement on his change-up allowed for optimism.
He looked strong in spring training before the shutdown and just as strong in Summer Camp, including a dominant final outing that came with the caveat of it being against players headed for the alternate training site in Tacoma.
This season was about Sheffield learning to get MLB hitters out and keep his team in games. He wasn’t completely unsuccessful in this first outing, given a pitch limit of about 70. But he also didn’t pitch anything like he did in spring training or Summer Camp, consistently falling behind batters and issuing costly walks.
“From the jump, I felt like I was out there really trying to guide the ball and working slow,” Sheffield said in a video teleconference with reporters. “I wasn’t really being a dog on the mound. Usually when I’m on the bump, I’m going after guys and trying to put them away. It was a struggle doing that.”
The Mariners hoped Sheffield had moved past the pitch inefficiency that plagued him last season.
“We really hadn’t seen him do that all spring or early in Summer Camp,” manager Scott Servais said in a video teleconference. “He’d been attacking, getting ahead in the count and putting guys away quickly. It wasn’t so easy for him tonight, a lot of three-ball counts and three or four walks.”
Sheffield worked through the first two innings facing the minimum number of hitters and getting four ground-ball outs. He also got some help from his defense. After walking David Fletcher, the first batter of the game, Trout hit a low missile of a line drive to the right side of the infield.
First baseman Evan White made a layout dive for the ball, snaring it with his glove for the out. He popped to his feet and hustled to first to double off Fletcher to end the inning.
“He’s just so athletic, instinctive,” Servais said of White. “That ball was smoked, and to be able to grab that and turn it into a double play was such a big play.”
Sheffield’s second inning was very smooth with three ground-ball outs to shortstop.
But his outing started to fall apart in an interminable, pitch-filled third inning in which eight Angels hitters came to the plate.
A leadoff walk to Tommy La Stella and a passed ball started the problems. After striking out Max Stassi, Taylor Ward, the No. 9 hitter, dumped an RBI single into enter on a 1-2 slider that was at the bottom of the strike zone. Fletcher followed with a single. With runners on the corners, Sheffield threw a beautiful slider to Trout’s back foot to strike him out swinging. But a missed strike call on a check swing from Anthony Rendon led to a walk to load the bases.
The Angels pushed a run across on Justin Upton’s ground ball to third base. Kyle Seager made a diving stop on the play but couldn’t get the third out on a throw to second. It allowed a run to score to make it 2-0. On his 39th pitch of the inning, Sheffield got Shohei Ohtani to pop out to end the inning.
“It was definitely a long inning,” Sheffield said. “The first two innings were fairly quick, but I feel like I hit a wall trying to get out of it. I exerted a lot of energy. “
That he got out of the inning, allowing just the two runs with two defensive miscues behind him, and the big strikeout of Trout, it was still a useful moment for Sheffield.
“It wasn’t like they were smoking the ball off him or squaring it up,” Servais said. “It was self-induced damage. The high pitch count and the number of three-ball counts takes its toll on you, certainly with where we are at in the season right now.”
But his outing ended without getting an out in the fourth inning. He gave up a leadoff to the ageless Albert Pujols and then walked La Stella before being removed from the game. His replacement, former Yankees teammate, Nestor Cortes did him no favors, immediately serving up a three-run homer to Max Stassi. Two of those runs were charged to Sheffield, who was charged with four total runs allowed on three hits with four walks and two strikeouts.
“I can’t be walking guys,” Sheffield said. “That’s what it boiled down to tonight. That’s frustrating, because I really worked in the offseason and continued that work in spring training and Summer Camp. For me to go out there and walk four guys, it’s just unacceptable at this point. That’s not me anymore. And it doesn’t need me to be anymore going forward. It’s going to be a focus point going into my work week.”
Cortes was charged with two runs allowed in his two innings, also giving up a solo homer to Albert Pujols.
Zac Grotz pitched the final three innings, allowing four runs on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
Seattle’s offensive highlight came from Tim Lopes, who hit a solo homer to right field off Angels starter Patrick Sandoval in the fourth inning. Seattle had seven hits on the night and went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to Anaheim for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.