Robbie Ray and Julio Rodriguez helped make sure the Mariners would head into the second half of their season on a roll.
Ray was dominant on the mound again and Rodriguez provided the offense, propelling the Mariners to a 2-1 victory over Oakland on Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park.
Ray allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings while striking out 12, Rodriguez drove in runs with a home run and a double and the bullpen closed it out for Seattle.
“Riding the Robbie Ray train is what we do, and what we will continue to do because he is really good and he is fun to watch,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Pitching and defense was the name of the game today.
“… And the other one we will ride is our center fielder [Rodriguez]. Julio is playing great, and we mention his name about every day here on something you see him do.”
The Mariners finished their first 81 games of the season with a record of 39-42, but they have won 10 of their past 13 games.
Ray continued a stretch of excellent starting pitching. In five starts since allowing four runs and 11 base runners against Houston in late May, Ray has allowed three runs in 33 2/3 innings.
It was during that rocky start against Houston — he allowed three homers in the first two innings — that Ray introduced a two-seam fastball after not using it for several years.
He finished that outing against Houston with three scoreless innings and has been on the top of his game since.
“The two-seam has been a crucial pitch for me,” Ray said. “It’s not only been a good pitch, but it has made my other pitches better. I think that’s the biggest thing. My four-seam (fastball) and my slider have been really good but that two-seamer throws a wrinkle into it and allows them to be that much better.”
“He’s (an American League) Cy Young Award winner last year (with Toronto) and he’s been on these runs before, and it’s awesome to watch,” Servais said.
Ray needed 25 pitches to work through the first inning, stranding runners on first and third but rarely was in trouble after that.
“I felt really good today,” Ray said. “I felt like I was able to move everything around the way I wanted to.
On June 23, Oakland starter Frankie Montas had a no-hitter for 7 1/3 innings against the Mariners. On Sunday, he allowed a homer on his first pitch and was out of the game after an inning.
Rodriguez was all over a 92 mph sinker on the first pitch from Montas, lining it over the left-field fence and off the scoreboard to give the Mariners a quick 1-0 lead.
“I just wanted to be ready for a pitch I could drive,” Rodriguez said. “I recognized that pitch and was able to put my barrel (on) it.”
It was the Mariners’ first leadoff homer of the season.
Montas left after the first inning because of tightness behind his right shoulder and was relieved by Austin Pruitt, who dominated the Mariners for four innings.
Pruitt retired the first 13 Seattle batters he faced — six on strikeouts — before Dylan Moore hit a bloop single to center field in the bottom of the sixth inning. Rodriguez followed with a double into the left-center field gap that brought home Moore with a big insurance run.
The extra run became bigger when Elvis Andrus hit a two-out homer off Ray, ending his night.
Ray received a standing ovation, and he earned it. He threw 107 pitches, allowing four hits, two walks and just the one run.
Andres Munoz relieved Ray and pitched a perfect 1 1/3 innings, striking out three. Paul Sewald closed it out with a perfect ninth inning to earn his ninth save of the season.
“Luckily, we had Munoz behind (Ray), and Sewald threw the ball great as well,” Servais said.
The task gets tougher for the Mariners, who played teams with losing records the past 13 games — including six games against Oakland (26-55). Up next is a two-game series at San Diego (47-34) and a four-game home series against Toronto (44-36).
Having Rodriguez on a roll definitely will help the Mariners.
“We’ve just got to make sure he gets on the plane with us to San Diego and make sure he gets home and keep an eye on him every day,” Servais joked about Rodriguez. “He is fun to watch and he’s carrying us right now. He’s just going out and playing baseball like a little kid and he’s having fun.”