This one looked like a picture-perfect, textbook Mariners victory. Ariel Miranda coughed up a couple of solo homers in the first couple innings before settling down to go 7 innings, giving up just those 2 runs, on 4 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts. Nelson Cruz jacked a 2-run homer in the bottom of the first, Taylor Motter hit a solo homer out to left in the bottom of the second, and Ben Gamel added to the Mariners’ lead with a solo homer of his own to dead center in the bottom of the seventh. All we needed was someone to bridge the game from Starter to Closer.
The tricky part was that Nick Vincent – our usual bridge guy – was unavailable, due to his back-to-back 1.1 inning performances the last two days. Tony Zych was unavailable due to what we would later learn to be an illness. I have to believe they wanted to save James Pazos unless it was an absolute emergency, considering he too had pitched the previous two days.
Which meant that the only right-handed relievers available for that eighth inning were Dan Altavilla, Steve Cishek, or Max Povse. It would be pretty fucked up to make Povse’s Major League debut a tense eighth inning affair with a narrow lead, and Cishek is another guy who pitched the previous two days.
So, that left Altavilla, who was rested, but also fresh off of a 3-homer performance down in Texas on Saturday.
This really hasn’t been Altavilla’s season. I don’t know what to make of his total and complete lack of command. He got the late-season call up last year and was dominant. But, this year, he’s been all over the place. Sometimes, he looks unhittable, and zips through these innings no problem; other times, he falls apart and gets pounded into submission. In his 25 appearances this year for the Mariners, he’s given up runs in 10 of them; that’s unacceptable. He’s got the live fastball; he’s got the slider that has righties swinging for the dirt. But, he leaves too many balls in the middle of the zone (when he’s not entirely missing the zone and walking a bunch of guys).
I didn’t see what he looked like on Saturday, but I watched him last night. His first sin was walking the leadoff hitter, Ian Kinsler. Kinsler was able to steal second on the perfect pitch (a slider low and away), but Altavilla really wasn’t doing a whole lot to keep him close to the bag at first. He was able to strike out the next couple guys, but then did an ATROCIOUS job of keeping Kinsler close at second, who was allowed to have a huge lead to steal third base easily. The fact that the pitch on that steal was another slider that got away from Zunino was also pure Altavilla. I know you want those strikeout pitches buried in the ground, but he was spiking those fucking things five feet in front of home plate!
The subsequent solo homer to J.D. Martinez, though, that was pure Ayala. Just a fat middle-middle meatball that he crushed to the opposite field seats. I mean, I don’t understand how you go from absolutely OWNING Miguel Cabrera in the previous at-bat (utilizing your live fastball, brushing him off the plate, only to get him to watch your slider cover the outside corner for strike three) to being so careless with a guy like Martinez, who is another premiere slugger in this league. It’s what made Bobby Ayala so maddening back in the day. He had a plus fastball and a devastating splitter that could’ve laid waste to the American League. But, all too often, as he fell off the left side of the mound, he’d leave those pitches up and out over the plate to get crushed.
Is it a concentration thing? Or, are they just not able to control where their pitches go? Either way, it’s something that needs to be fixed in a hurry, because I don’t really see a ton of other options in the minors with the kind of upside Altavilla demonstrates. Who knows, maybe Max Povse will be the guy, but it’s way too early in his career to put that on him.
The Mariners squandered a 2-on, 1-out situation in the bottom of the eighth, with the heart of the order at the plate, and after that I went to bed. Granted, they got good and Bucknor’d on that strikeout to Jarrod Dyson to end the inning, but all three of the guys who made outs in that inning (including the also-hot-hitting Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia) were letting juicy sliders waft past them for strikes without even offering a swing. One of the more frustrating half-innings I’ve seen in a while that didn’t involve the Mariners leaving someone on third base with less than two outs.
Edwin Diaz and Steve Cishek each worked scoreless innings to get us to the bottom of the tenth, where the Mariners scored the game-winning run on a Kyle Seager double (Tyler Smith pinch ran for Cruz and scored from second after a wild pitch). I guess the joke is on me that the Mariners did all these cool things after I went to bed; I’ll somehow have to console myself with the good night’s sleep I enjoyed.
In the Kudos Department, Gamel had 3 more hits (including the aforementioned homer), Cruz was on base 4 times (with the aformentioned 2-run homer), Zunino had another hit to keep the good times rolling, Motter had a couple hits as Jean Segura works his way back in his rehab assignment (with a probable return tomorrow or Friday), and Seager had the heroics in extras.
I’d also like to circle back to Ariel Miranda, who got short shrift with all this Altavilla talk. That’s an amazing bounce-back performance after his dud in Minnesota last week. No hits after the third inning! I would’ve complimented him on saving the bullpen in this one, but obviously what happened was outside of his control.
It does beg to wonder what things will look like tonight if the Mariners are in a position to win. That’s three straight days with an appearance for Diaz and Cishek, so I have to believe those guys are sitting. That most likely slots Vincent as our closer, with some combo of Zych and Pazos in the eighth. Here’s to hoping Paxton has his mechanics working again, because we’re gonna need him. Here’s also to hoping the offense gets on its horse so we don’t have to sweat one out in the late innings.