OAKLAND, Calif. – If there’s one thing consistent about the opener experiment it’s that when it fails, the opener gives up three runs in the first inning.
Five times this season — all in the month of June — the Mariners have started a reliever in a game with the intention of bringing in the scheduled starter — Wade LeBlanc or Tommy Milone — in after that to pitch the bulk of the innings in the game.
The results — three losses and two wins.
The most recent loss came Saturday night when right-hander Gerson Bautista, who was “starting” for his second straight appearance, gave up three runs and never got out of the first inning, issuing three walks and giving up two hits.
LeBlanc inherited the disaster and didn’t do much better making sure victory wasn’t a possibility as the Mariners delivered a noncompetitive and lethargic performance in an 11-2 whipping by the A’s.
In all three losses, the opener gave up three runs in the first inning and the Mariners never recovered.
“The opener, still believe in it,” manager Scott Servais said. “It just didn’t work out for us tonight.”
It’s difficult to believe that it was the same Mariners team that 24 hours earlier looked crisp and competent in a 9-2 win over Oakland on Friday. Seattle made four errors in the game, running its league-leading total to 79 while striking out 14 times. That sort of inconsistency of performance is why this team is now 30-44 on the season and has won back-to-back games just once since April 26.
“It was just kind of a sloppy, sloppy game,” Servais said. “We hadn’t seen that in a while. We’d been playing pretty good ball and on the this road trip we have been competitive in almost all the games, but not so much tonight. We beat the tar out of them last night. They did it to us tonight. We’ll show up tomorrow and try to win the series.”
As for the opener, the Mariners will continue to employ it. They believe it works for LeBlanc and Milone but they may use Austin Adams instead of Bautista on Monday against the Royals for Milone’s turn in the rotation.
But does it really matter who they use? Seattle essentially is choosing from a group of seven relievers with all similar skill-sets and experience levels, excluding Anthony Bass as the “closer.”
Bautista walked the first two batters he faced to start the game, which is less than ideal. But he got Matt Olson to line out and struck out Khris Davis. Bautista never got the third out. He walked Mark Canha to load the bases and gave up a two-run single to Ramon Laureano. Jurickson Profar followed with a line drive single just off the glove of leaping J.P. Crawford to score another run. And that ended Bautista’s outing. Like Cory Gearrin on June 3 against the Astros and Adams on June 6 also against Houston, Bautista had allowed three runs to score.
LeBlanc ended the first-inning disaster, getting Chad Pinder to ground out.
Like most starters, LeBlanc isn’t a fan of the opener. But he knows it’s not his decision to make. Asked if he was getting used to his current situation, he was blunt.
“No,” he said. “I mean I’ve done it in the past so I’m already used to it. But it is what it is. You’ve got to get outs whenever they are. If they give me the ball, I’ve got to get outs with it. I didn’t do that tonight.”
The Mariners scratched out a run in the second inning to narrow the score to 3-1, giving the hope of making it a game.
But in his third time having an opener, LeBlanc was less than effective. He gave up a solo homer to Marcus Semien in the second inning. After working a 1-2-3 third inning, he was tagged for five runs in the fourth inning. LeBlanc gave up five hits in the inning while Kyle Seager committed a costly error at third base.
LeBlanc pitched 2 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on eight hits with no walks and a strikeout.
“They were waffling everything,” he said. “It’s embarrassing. That’s the way I can describe it. My command was fine. It seemed like they were on everything I threw.”
The A’s had a good plan and LeBlanc couldn’t disrupt it.
“If they are looking for what I’m throwing and I’m not making an adjustment, that’s embarrassing,” LeBlanc said. “They were probably sitting on soft stuff. And I didn’t adjust. It’s all on me.”
A 4-1 game had ballooned to 9-1. And the only drama was whether the Mariners would allow the A’s to reach double digits.
That happened in the sixth inning off reliever Tayler Scott when Crawford made a wayward throw on a double-play ball, allowing a run to score. Profar added another RBI single in the inning to make it 11-2.
It’s the 17th time this season an opponent has scored 10-plus runs against the Mariners.
Servais never got to see the full carnage of the loss. He was ejected from the game in the fourth inning by home-plate umpire Carlos Torres after a called third strike on Seager. A miffed Seager began to have words with Torres and Servais came out to prevent his third baseman from being ejected. He took the hook instead.
“The pitch there was not a strike,” Servais said. “You have to go out and defend your guys. Any time you argue balls and strikes and you leave the dugout, it’s probably not going to end well. It’s over. It was not a strike, but here nor there, it did not cost us the game.”