By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
ARLINGTON, Texas — No offense to Teaxs Rangers rookie pitcher Nick Tepesch, but the Seattle Mariners will be glad to see him on the mound today.
It’s not a knock on Tepesch’s pitching skills, which are pretty good. It’s not the fact he will be making just the third major league start of his career.
No, the Mariners just need a break from facing dominating strikeout machines.
For the third consecutive game, Seattle had to endure facing a tough starting pitcher that can make hitters swing and miss. And for the third straight game, the Mariners did a lot swinging and missing.
Seattle hitters struck out 10 times Friday against Rangers starter Yu Darvish and couldn’t scratch out a run in a 7-0 loss to Texas at the Ballpark at Arlington. Darvish threw seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits and walking just three hitters.
It was the third consecutive game where the opposing starting pitcher has struck out at least 10 Mariners.
To be fair to the Mariners (7-11), as anemic as their offense may appear this season, Friday’s game and the two before it came against three of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball. Detroit’s Max Scherzer, who struck out 12 in eight innings on Wednesday, averaged 11.078 strikeouts per nine innings last season — highest in baseball. The Tigers’ Justin Verlander, who struck out 12 hitters in seven innings Thursday, was third in the AL at 9.025 strikes per nine innings. Darvish was second behind Scherzer at 10.396 strikeouts per nine innings last season.
Given the pitchers Seattle has been facing, those 34 combined strikeouts might be somewhat understandable to some, but not to Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
“We have faced good pitchers, but we are a lot better than that,” he said. “We have got to do a better job with two strikes. There’s certain things we need to do better prior to that to create damage, but speaking on the strikeouts, we need to do a better job. We are capable and we should be better than that.”
Kyle Seager couldn’t disagree with his manager.
“Yeah, that’s three pretty good arms and that’s what they do, but that’s on us,” Seager said. “We obviously need to do a better job of putting the ball in play.”
What’s frustrating for Wedge is that the Mariners’ penchant for striking out isn’t limited to just the past three games. Seattle has struck out 148 times this season; second most in the American League behind Houston, which has 158.
So, how do they get better with two strikes?
“Just protecting the plate and being disciplined at the same time,” Wedge said. “That’s why it’s so tough to hit — it’s one of the many reasons. One, you are up there not to take strike three. But, two, you are up there not to chase (pitches), too. It’s having better discipline and pitch recognition.”
The Mariners have traditionally done pretty well against Darvish. They beat him in his last start at Safeco Field, but it wasn’t happening on Friday. Walks have plagued him before, but Friday he surrendered just three.
“I thought he pitched a little bit different today, and was better today than he was the last time,” Wedge said. “You saw all the breaking balls the last time, but he used his fastball more effectively tonight.”
Seager, who had the Mariners’ only extra base hit in the game — a third-inning double — noticed the difference.
“Last time, he didn’t throw too many fastballs, but today he got ahead with it more,” Seager said. “You get in there, you’ll see multiple kinds of pitches and they are all good pitches. You end up having to look for location more than necessarily looking for a certain kind of pitch. He threw the ball well tonight.”
Even with Darvish dominating, the Mariners weren’t completely out of it early. Starter Joe Saunders kept the game within reach for the first four innings. Although Texas put runners on in each one of those innings inning, Saudners only gave up one run on a second-inning solo homer to Jeff Baker.
Everything fell apart in the fifth inning. With one out, the Rangers loaded the bases on a Lance Berkman single, a walk to Adrian Beltre and another single from Nelson Cruz.
Saunders tried to go inside to A.J. Pierzynski and made a decent pitch in on Pierzynski’s hands. But Pierzynski managed to flare a two-RBI blooper into shallow left field.
“He stayed inside the ball really well and found a hole behind shortstop,” Saunders said. “You make a pitch and that’s all you can do.”
Saunders walked Jeff Baker and then another run scored on a groundout to short. Craig Gentry then delivered another big blow, lining a sharp ball out to left field. Raul Ibanez charged the drive, but his spike got caught in the outfield grass, tripping him as he was about to field the ball. It rolled past him to the wall, allowing two runs to score and Gentry to reach third on what was ruled a triple.
“It was one of the weird innings where you make a pitch and they find a hole,” Saunders said. “You have to tell yourself to keep making pitches, keep hitting spots. But it just snowballed on us. And I couldn’t get out of it.”
Wedge replaced Saunders with Hector Noesi, who promptly gave up an RBI double to Ian Kinsler. The run was charged to Saunders. It was the only hit given up by Noesi, who retired 13 consecutive hitters after that and saved the Mariners bullpen.
“That was big,” Wedge said. “Hector really stepped up for us. We’ve been pushing those guys in the pen and for us to be able to give them a night off like that, that’s why we brought Hector up here.”