By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — A much-awaited homestand that started with so much promise ended with a disappointing thud on Sunday.
It seems like weeks ago that the Seattle Mariners returned to Safeco Field fresh off a three-game road sweep of the Colorado Rockies and then subsequently took two of three from arguably one of the best teams in baseball in the Texas Rangers.
But really it was just four days ago.
And over those four days, the Mariners dropped four straight games to the Los Angeles Angels, including Sunday’s 4-2 loss to wrap up the homestand. It dropped the Mariners to 21-29 and 10 games out of first place in the American League West.
“Everybody walked out of here feeling pretty good three days ago,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said before the game.
The Mariners weren’t feeling good when they walked out of Safeco on Sunday. It wasn’t just the four straight losses, but how they lost those four games. Seattle was shut down and almost shut out by Dan Haren on Thursday, suffered through a Brandon League meltdown on Friday, watched their ace Felix Hernandez get lit up on Saturday and managed minimal run support for Hector Noesi against C.J. Wilson on Sunday.
“It’s never fun to lose,” said first baseman Justin Smoak. “We’ve had a tough stretch here of late, but if we get out on the road and relax a little bit, we will win some ball games.”
That nine-game, 10-day road trip starts with a trip to Arlington to face a Rangers team that has won three in a row.
The Mariners had their chances to win on Sunday. They got another solid outing from Noesi. The young right-hander tossed eight innings for the second straight start and the third time this season, giving up three runs on five hits with two walks and no strikeouts. He’s given the Mariners five quality starts (six innings pitched, three runs or less) this season.
“A couple of two strike pitches hurt him, but Hector pitched another great game,” Wedge said. “It’s been fun watching him progress. He’s consistently getting us deep in the ball games and giving us opportunities to win.”
The two-strike pitches Wedge was specifically speaking of were a pair of solo home runs that Noesi gave up on 0-2 counts. But the first run Noesi gave up — on a line drive RBI single from Kendrys Morales — was also on a two-strike pitch. On a 1-2 count to give the Angels in the first inning. Noesi left a changeup up in the zone and Morales dumped it into left field.
In the third inning facing Morales, Noesi got up 0-2. Instead of wasting a pitch, he hung a slider up by Morales’ waist. The Angels designated hitter launched it into right center for a solo home run.
“I was trying to throw it at his back foot, but I hung it over the middle,” Noesi said.
The Mariners cut into the lead in the bottom of the inning as Montero doubled to left-center and Smoak scored him on single to right off of Wilson. It was one of two hits on the day for Smoak, who is hitting .317 (19-for-60) over his last 15 games.
“I was impressed with Smoak today,” Wedge said. “He had some good swings, some good takes and lined up a couple balls the other way.”
But another 0-2 pitch would come back to haunt Noesi in the seventh inning. He threw a low changeup to Mark Trumbo that wasn’t quite low enough. Trumbo crushed the ball off the upper deck façade in left field.
“That was a good pitch, he just went down and got it,” Noesi said.
But it could have better. It’s been a problem for Noesi this season. He’s given up three doubles and two homers on 0-2 counts.
“It’s just finishing the pitch off and finishing the hitter off and being a little more aggressive when it needs to be down in the zone or out of the zone,” Wedge said.
The perfect example is the pitch to Trumbo. If Noesi puts that pitch an inch lower even, it’s only a fly out.
But Noesi was far from the problem. The Mariners did little offensively against Wilson. The left-hander pitched six innings allowing just the one run on two hits, while striking out five. If it weren’t for a blister on his pitching hand, he might have gone longer.
“It was just a gradual thing that started to come on,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “He pitched a great game. I think the blister affected his command as the game went on, but when he had to get some outs, he made some pitches.”
And few of those pitches were straight.
“I think the one straight pitch he threw me almost hit me, otherwise it was cutter, sinker, changeup, curveball,” Smoak said.
The Mariners were able to cut the lead to 3-2 in the seventh when Wilson’s replacement — former closer Jordan Walden — walked Jesus Montero, who scored later on Walden’s second wild pitch of the inning.
But that was all the Mariners would muster. Los Angeles added an insurance run in the ninth as Morales doubled to right off of Shawn Kelley. He later scored on Howie Kendrick’s sacrifice fly to right.
“We’ve got to do better offensively,” Wedge said. “It’s hard to win up here if you ask your pitchers to be perfect.”