An easy target for anger and frustration in the first weeks of this 2020 season — the Mariners’ bullpen for obvious reasons, specifically its suboptimal performance thus far — has suffered much of the blame for the team’s failures and losses.
But on Tuesday night, the bullpen’s role in the Mariners’ fourth consecutive defeat — a somewhat non-distinct 5-3 loss to the Angels — was only to make a game that seemed unlikely to result in a come-from-behind victory for Seattle into an almost certain loss.
When Seattle right-hander Erik Swanson gave up a two-run homer to David Fletcher in the top of the seventh, making it 5-1, the odds of a Mariners victory, which were trending in the wrong direction with each out made, seemed about as likely as fans doing a wave in the empty T-Mobile Park.
And yet, had Swanson not given up those insurance runs to the Angels, Dylan Moore’s solo homer in the bottom of the seventh makes it a one-run game instead of trimming the deficit to three runs. Trying to scratch out one run over the final three innings is certainly more workable than four. And then Austin Nola’s bloop single in the eighth inning that made it 5-3 might have been the tying run.
Of course, Angels manager Joe Maddon would have also worked the game differently in terms of reliever usage in later innings if not for that Fletcher homer off Swanson. Playing the might’ve been game for the Mariners and a change of outcomes would be a little overly optimistic.
“Swanny left one breaking ball up, and Fletcher jumped on it,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said during a Zoom video call. “I thought if we could have hold them right there at three runs, but the add-on runs hurt us.”
The Mariners did get scoreless innings from relievers Carl Edwards Jr., Joey Gerber in his MLB debut, Matt Magill and Taylor Guilbeau. Swanson was the only reliever used that allowed runs.
So while the bullpen didn’t lose the game for the Mariners, it did influence the outcome in not a good way.
Still, a shaky first inning from rookie starter Justin Dunn, who was welcomed into the Mariners’ “I gave up a homer to Mike Trout” pitching club and joined a long list of pitchers to serve up a homer to Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, was the bigger issue in the game.
Making his second start of the season, both against the Angels, struggled with the concept of facing the same team in back-to-back starts.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Dunn said during a Zoom call. “That lineup has a bunch of bangers from top to bottom. It’s a very stacked lineup, and I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me again. I just tried to be a little too cute in that first inning and got into some bad counts, trying to use some sequences a little differently from the last time I faced them. I fell behind and had to come in the zone, and when you do that against hitters like that, they make you pay.”
To be fair his 2-2 slider on the outside corner to Trout wouldn’t have been called a strike by most umpires. But the pitch also didn’t have its typical bite, and Trout muscled a line drive over the wall in left-center.
“He is arguably the best player in the game, and you just tip our cap to him and say, ‘That’s why you’re Mike Trout,’ ” Dunn said. “Next time I have to get it down a little bit more and get it more off the plate. I wasn’t trying to walk him. Just getting soft contact. He did a really good job of staying through it.”
MLB Statcast had the ball traveling 407 feet at a low angle of 20 degrees. The exit velocity was 107 mph. Not bad for a guy who had missed the previous four games to be home for the birth of his first child, returned and, of course, hit a homer in his first at-bat as a father.
“I was hoping that now that Trout is a dad, maybe the dad bod might have snuck up on him,” Servais quipped. “But that was obviously not the case.”
That it came against the Mariners was also fitting, because no team has surrendered more homers to the perennial MVP candidate. It was Trout’s 42nd career homer vs. Seattle in 157 games and his 25th at T-Mobile Park, most by any opposing player. No team has given up more homers to Trout. The Rangers are second with 36 and the A’s third with 35. Dunn was the 191st MLB pitcher to allow a homer to Trout during his career.
Dunn seemed unaffected by watching Trout circle the bases and came back to strike out Anthony Rendon for the second out of the inning. However a walk to Brian Goodwin brought Pujols to the plate. Dunn hung a 3-1 breaking ball that Pujols, even with his bat slowing down with each year, will hit hard every time. Pujols put the cookie of a pitch into the second level of an empty Edgar’s Cantina for his 659th homer of his illustrious career.
Though he wasn’t crisp, Dunn did work the next three inning scoreless and exited after four innings with three runs allowed on three hits with four walks and four strikeouts.
“After he got through the first inning he started to settle down a little bit, and I thought he threw ball really well in the third and fourth inning,” Servais said. “But when you throw about 37 pitches in the first inning, it kind of cuts the night little bit short.”
Why did it get better for Dunn?
“It was going back to the same thing I did in Anaheim, honestly,” he said of his first outing there. “It was more of a mentality thing. I got away from attacking the zone and challenging the zone. They’re a fairly patient lineup. I actually thought they were going to come in being more aggressive on the fastballs in the first inning. And that I could use the breaking balls for chase, they really didn’t do it. In the second inning I got back to filling up the zone.”
The Mariners didn’t do much against Angels starter Andrew Heaney, who worked the first five innings scoreless. Seattle ended his outing with two outs in the sixth. Kyle Seager worked a walk, and Austin Nola tripled to left-center for the Mariners’ first run.