HOUSTON — Maybe it’s presumptive to think of it as a potential problem since planning for postseason pitching hasn’t really been a consideration since Lou Piniella was still wearing a uniform and gas was around $1.65 a gallon.
And the idea of worrying about a potential matchup with the Houston Astros in the divisional or championship rounds of the playoffs seems a bit irrational considering the Mariners haven’t been there since 2001.
It’s also not an impossibility if the Mariners make the postseason and win their three-game wild-card series. Their starting pitching is that good … well, sometimes.
But this much is certain in 2022 and was further verified again Friday night in yet another Mariners loss at Minute Maid Park: Robbie Ray has an Astros problem.
Facing Houston for the second straight start, Ray struggled again, failing to make it out of the third inning, giving up four runs, which is less than ideal when your teammates are dealing with a night against Justin Verlander. The pitchers that followed didn’t fare much better either.
The outcome was familiar: An 11-1 pasting.
It was the Mariners’ fifth straight loss to the Astros. Seattle is now 6-29 at Minute Maid Park since 2018.
“Not our night,” manager Scott Servais said. “They were all over Robbie again right from the get-go. We just couldn’t get them off him.”
Fortunately for Ray, he won’t have to face them again in the regular season. But what happens if he faces them in the postseason?
Well, that’s a conversation for another day. Perhaps Seattle’s stunning acquisition of Reds right-hander Luis Castillo, which was finalized during the game, will change the potential matchups.
“He’s been on a great run until he came out of the break and ran into this club a couple of times,” Servais said. “He’s going to continue to pitch in big games for us and we love having him out there. Fortunately, this will be the last time he pitches against the Houston Astros in the regular season and we’ll see what happens from there.”
It was a bad sign when it took Ray 26 pitches to work through the first inning scoreless after a two-out walk of Yordan Alvarez. That was Ray’s best inning.
In the second inning, Aledmys Diaz walloped a 3-1 sinker onto the train tracks for a solo homer and a 1-0 lead.
Ray’s outing fell apart in the third inning he wouldn’t finish. The results:
- Leadoff walk to Jose Altuve
- Single from Yuli Gurriel
- Single from Alvarez to score Altuve
- Two-run double to left-center from Alex Bregman
- Strikeout looking of Kyle Tucker
- Walked Jeremy Pena
- Line out from Diaz
- Walked Mauricio Dubon
With no sign of it getting better, Servais pulled Ray and went to his bullpen. Right-hander Penn Murfee ended the misery, getting Martin Maldonado to ground out to end the inning.
Ray’s final line: 2 2/3 innings pitched, four runs allowed on five hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
In three starts vs. Houston this season, Ray has pitched 11 2/3 innings, allowing 13 earned runs on 23 hits with seven walks, seven strikeouts and six homers allowed.
Ray has a 10.98 ERA vs. the Astros in three starts and 3.45 ERA in his 18 other starts.
“I just need to flush these last two starts,” he said. “I know I’m a good pitcher. The stretch that I had right before facing these guys was pretty much as good as it gets. So just put it behind me, get back to the grind and be ready for New York.”
The aggressive swings from the Astros on certain pitches and their willingness to lay off pitches that should generate swings and misses led Ray to wonder if he was tipping his pitches.
“I’m gonna need to look at it because they’re taking pitches that are really close to being good pitches and they’re swinging at pitches that they shouldn’t be swinging at and hitting balls that they shouldn’t be,” he said. “Maybe there’s something there, but it’s hard to tell right now. Definitely over these next five days I’m going to sit down and look it over.”
Ray admitted he’s dealt with tipping pitches in his past. But he thought he’d cleaned that up.
“Maybe it’s something really small and they’re really good at picking up on that stuff over there,” he said. “Obviously those guys have been around for a long time. They’re really good hitters. So it’s one of those things that it could be something extremely small that they’re picking up on and I just need to figure out what it is.”
Servais will have his staff look at the video again.
“We have looked at some tape,” he said. “They’ve got a really good team. They’re on top of all the little things in the game. We certainly feel like they’re on everything and can’t get them off. We’ll continue to look at those things. It’s something we’re very aware of.”
But the damage was done. And it would only get worse.
The Astros scored a run off Murfee, four off Tommy Milone and another off Ryan Borucki. Servais turned to backup catcher Luis Torrens to finish the game and he gave up a mammoth homer.
Meanwhile, Verlander tossed 7 2/3 innings, allowing one run on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts to improve to 14-3. His lone run allowed came on an RBI double from Julio Rodriguez.