Mariners left-handers Marco Gonzalez and Yusei Kikuchi have both made two starts this season.
Wade LeBlanc just made his first.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound veteran dusted off his 34-year-old left arm in Seattle’s series-ending 10-8 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. But before that start, he had maintained an unconventionally erratic pitching schedule throughout the spring.
LeBlanc threw 3 2/3 innings against the Oakland A’s in Cactus League play March 6, surrendering seven hits and five earned runs. His next meaningful work came in an intrasquad game March 12. Because of the season-opening two-game series in Japan — in which he threw a pair of bullpen sessions but was not on the active roster — LeBlanc didn’t start again until March 26, when he impressed with 5 1/3 scoreless innings of three-hit ball in a 1-0 exhibition defeat against the San Diego Padres. That brings us back to Sunday.
If you’re keeping score at home, LeBlanc was buried on the bench for six, 14 and five days between his past four starts. Considering his inconsistent workload, it might be predictable that the Seattle veteran would struggle to find a rhythm in his first start of the regular season — especially against arguably the most formidable offense in the major leagues. LeBlanc lasted 5 1/3 innings Sunday, allowing seven hits, six runs (four earned), three walks and a home run. Last season, he finished with a 9-5 record and a 3.72 ERA.
“I thought Wade LeBlanc threw the ball really well today,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Sunday. “We did not help him defensively. We should have turned a couple double plays, and if we did that he probably would have walked out of there giving up maybe one run.
“But that’s what Wade does. That’s what our starters do. That’s kind of what drives us. We’ve got to continue to throw it over the plate.”
From here on out, LeBlanc should be allowed to throw it a little more regularly. And if the Mariners keep hitting, the results will speak for themselves.
“This is a good team. This is a good team,” LeBlanc repeated Sunday. “We have a good ballclub here. Whatever’s being said outside of this clubhouse is just noise to us. We’re going out there expecting to score, expecting to get outs and expecting to win.”
Felix set for delayed debut
The Mariners will have played six regular-season games by the time Felix Hernandez makes his starting debut against the Angels on Monday night.
That will undoubtedly be a strange sensation for the aging 32-year-old former ace, who made 10 consecutive opening-day starts before Gonzalez snapped the streak in Tokyo on March 20. Still, the decision to delay the King’s debut is understandable, considering he posted a career-worst 5.50 ERA last season and that ERA ballooned to 15.95 in three Cactus League starts this spring.
So, what version of Hernandez will take the hill Monday — the six-time All-Star, two-time American League ERA champ and franchise leader in wins, innings and strikeouts, or the fledgling fifth starter with a slipping grip on a roster spot? The answer will come inside T-Mobile Park at 7:10 p.m. Monday.
It’s worth noting that Hernandez lost both of his starts against Mike Trout and the Angels last season. In his career, Hernandez is 16-18 with a 3.58 ERA in 53 starts against the Angels.
Healy’s hot start
Ryon Healy tallied five doubles and two home runs entering Sunday, recording at least one extra-base hit in every game this season.
He had a total of seven hits, and none of them were singles.
That was the second-longest streak of extra base hits to begin a season in franchise history, behind power-hitting skyscraper Richie Sexton, who registered nine consecutive extra-base hits to kick off the 2007 season. Healy’s streak ended Sunday when he chopped a bouncing single into right field in his second at-bat.
Another streak continued, however, as Healy belted a double into left field for his sixth consecutive game with at least one extra-base hit.
The 27-year-old Healy — who has alternated between third and first base to compensate for Kyle Seager’s standing on the injured list — entered the game Sunday hitting .333 with a .364 on base percentage and six RBI. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder’s sizzling start comes after an underwhelming 2018 season in which he hit just .235, albeit with 24 home runs and 73 RBI.
“Ryon’s really changed his approach,” Servais said following the victory Sunday. “He’s made a couple adjustments with his swing mechanically, really cut down his leg kick, which has made things simpler for him. Using the whole field to hit has been a big thing. He slapped a base hit to right field today with two strikes, not trying to pull the ball.
“Just be a tough out, and along the way he’s going to walk a little bit more. The power’s there. But just being a tougher out is what he’s really focusing on, and it’s paying off right now.”
The third base curse continues
Speaking of Healy, the makeshift third baseman committed his second error of the season in the first inning Sunday. With runners on first and second and one out, designated hitter Sam Travis hit a sharp ground ball to third base. Healy corralled it and threw wide of second base, forcing Dee Gordon’s foot off the bag on what might have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, Eduardo Nunez smacked a single through the hole into left field, scoring two runs and extending the Boston lead to 3-0.
Thus ended a less-than-ideal two-inning stretch for the Mariners at the hot corner, after rookie Dylan Moore committed errors on three consecutive plays in the ninth inning Saturday. Seattle continues to struggle — defensively, at least — without Seager, who remains on the injured list with a hand injury.
The Mariners entered the game Sunday leading the major leagues with eight errors in five games.
The scoring streak (also) continues
The Mariners have scored at least five runs in each of their first six games, just the second time in franchise history they have accomplished that feat. The 1998 M’s posted at least five runs in their first seven games.