BOSTON — Regression or rust, the reasons for the failure really don’t matter or provide any reassurance of better days ahead given the recent results.
Drew Steckenrider entered a late-game situation where he flourished for the Mariners so many times last season.
Asked to handle the bottom of the eighth inning and work through the lower part of the Red Sox batting order without allowing a run, giving his teammates a chance to break a tie in the top of the ninth, Steckenrider couldn’t finish the inning.
After giving up a one-out triple to Franchy Cordero on a gutted 2-0 fastball and then serving up a single off the green monster to Christian Vazquez on a first-pitch fastball for what would be the game-winning run in a brutal 6-5 loss to the Red Sox, Steckenrider was done for the day. And his team would be done a half inning later, suffering its 18th loss in 24 games.
The Mariners are reeling to the point of dissolution. Their bullpen is in disarray due to injuries and inconsistency. The lineup, which is missing Mitch Haniger, came into the game averaging just 3.04 runs per game over that 24-game span. Seattle is now 17-24 and tied for last place in the American League West with the Oakland A’s, who gutted their team before the season to rebuild.
The Mariners will turn to Logan Gilbert on Sunday afternoon to avoid getting swept in the four-game series.
After handing the ball to manager Scott Servais, Steckenrider walked off the mound with his eyes first fixated on the ground. The mass of well-served Red Sox fans celebrating his failure in the Saturday afternoon heat drew a blank stare from Steckenrider. The already waning trust Servais had in him to pitch in those situations was likely gone.
Steckenrider and the Mariners were following a similar pattern of results. Both were unexpectedly successful in 2021 and were now failing to follow it up in 2022.
“We need him, you know? We need him,” Servais said. “You can’t just lean on one or two guys in that ‘pen.”
It would be easy to use Steckenrider’s absence from the team and lag time between outings as a reason for his failures. He missed the series in Toronto, being placed on the restricted list because he was unable to meet Canada’s requirement for visitors to be full vaccinated for entry without quarantine.
Servais wouldn’t say if Steckenrider was able to work out or throw during the three-day absence. But he also hadn’t been very effective prior to the trip to Toronto. On that Sunday at CitiField, he allowed two runs on four hits while recording just one out, nearly costing the Mariners a win. In 15 appearances this season, he has an 0-2 record with a. 5.27 ERA with five walks, nine strikeouts and 19 hits allowed in 13 1/3 innings pitched. Opponents have a .367/.375/.492 slash line against him.
“It’s been a struggle for Steck getting ahead in counts,” Servais said. “He’s relied in the past on that life of the fastball above the zone. He hasn’t been able to get there and a lot of it is attributed to being behind in the count. His secondary pitches have kind of been in and out with him. He has the change-up against lefties, but the breaking ball has been a struggle to get much consistency going with that.”
After scoring four runs in the top of the first off Boston starter Garrett Whitlock on six hits and adding another run in the third inning, the Mariners watched as that lead disappeared in a never-ending bottom of the fifth.
Boston scored five runs off Seattle starter Chris Flexen, starting with Rafael Devers’ second homer of the game — a two-run blast to center. J.D. Martinez followed with a double and Xander Bogaerts singled to end Flexen’s outing. The barrage of hits came on six pitches. But it had building over the first four innings as Flexen benefitted from loud outs and defensive plays.
“They’re an aggressive team and I don’t think they we’re looking for anything specific,” Flexen said. “I threw four different pitches and all four of them were getting hit. I think it comes down to missing over plate really bad. They weren’t missing the mistakes.”
After the early burst of offense, which included 10 hit off Whitlock and more run support for Flexen than he had in previous starts combined this season, the Mariners did little against the Boston bullpen over the final six innings.
“Unfortunately for Flex, it was about the only time we’ve scored any runs for him this year and wasn’t able to get a bit deeper in the ballgame,” Servais said. “He wasn’t fooling anybody. It turned into a bullpen game after that. And their bullpen was a little bit better. You feel good about where we’re at in the ballgame, but we’ve just got to finish it off.”
Down a run in the ninth, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Enrique Hernandez made nice catches in the outfield on hard hits from Adam Frazier and Ty France to preserve the victory.