By Ryan Divisih The News Tribune
PHOENIX — There seems to be no real happy medium for Hector Noesi starts. The lanky right-hander can be tantalizingly effective, showing a fastball with life, solid breaking pitches and the ability to pitch deep into games.
But at other times, he can be maddeningly inconsistent, leaving fastballs up in the zone, losing focus on 0-2 and 1-2 counts and seeming to lack the ultra-competitive mindset like that of his fellow starting pitchers.
On Monday, the Mariners (29-40) saw both parts of Noesi. Unfortunately for them, there was too much of the erratic Noesi early. Noesi gave up four runs early and six runs total in a 7-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
“He just didn’t come out and be as aggressive as he needed to be,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “They made him work and they made him pay for it.”
Meanwhile, the Mariners’ offensive output in the dry hitter-friendly air of Arizona, produced nine hits, but just the one run off of starter Wade Miley, who worked seven innings, striking out eight hitters.
“It was a hit here or a hit there,” Wedge said. “Their guy did a job. He spread out the hits, but we were never in position to do any damage.”
The lone run came in the sixth when Casper Wells, who was starting in place of Ichiro Suzuki, doubled home Kyle Seager from first base. Wells was later thrown out at home plate trying to score on Dustin Ackley’s single to left. It was the only time the Mariners threatened. Both Wells and Seager had two hits each.
Still, the onus fell on Noesi, who simply wasn’t very sharp to start the game. It was evident when he gave up three straight singles to start the game. The last two coming on 0-2 counts.
The third hit, a sharp single to left by Justin Upton on a slider, allowed Willie Bloomquist to score from second on the play. The former Mariners utility player reverted to his South Kitsap football days to knock down Seattle catcher Jesus Montero to jar the ball free. It also allowed the runners to move a base.
“He just wasn’t aggressive with it,” a frustrated Wedge said of the pitch. “It was down and away, but it didn’t have the same bite as that he normally has when he finishes his pitches. Good hitters are able to slow themselves down and hook it.”
Noesi knows he’s making the same mistakes when he’s ahead in counts.
“I tried to put it in the dirt,” he said.
But he didn’t to Upton or to a handful of other hitters, and it cost him and the Mariners.
“I’ve have to stop doing that,” he said. “I have to be consistent.”
A pair of sacrifice flies — both hard hit balls — from Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt pushed the lead to 3-0 after the first inning.
Noesi was in trouble in the second inning, giving up a double to pitcher Wade Miley on a fastball right down the middle. Miley helped Noesi out by trying to advance to third after Michael Saunders bobbled the ball. Saunders easily threw Miley out.
Even with the gift from Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams, who inexplicably sent Miley, Noesi still couldn’t get things right with his location.
Aaron Hill led off the third with a triple on another pitch up in the zone. He later scored on Justin Upton’s sac fly to right field.
Down 4-0, Noesi showed a hint of his potential. In the fourth inning, he struck out the side and then worked a scoreless fifth.
“He got better as the game wore on,” Wedge said. “He got better with two strikes, but he has to have that in his back pocket. He has to be more aggressive and he has to do it from the very first pitch of the very first inning.”
But in the sixth, pitches up in the zone led two to more runs on a sacrifice fly from Miguel Montero — their fourth of the game — and a RBI single from Josh Bell.
Wedge had relievers up and ready in the fifth and early in the sixth, but chose to leave Noesi in there.
“That’s why I wanted to leave him in there and have him try to get through the inning late,” Wedge said. “Those are what I like to call, character outs. Finish this off. Get through this inning … dig deep and find something. Because when you do that in that situation, you can do it in a more meaningful situation down the road.”
Arizona pounded 11 hits off of Mariners pitching. Hill also wowed the crowd of 24,284 by hitting for the cycle. He had the single in the first, the triple in the third and the double in fifth off of Noesi. In the seventh, he crushed a pitch off of reliever Shawn Kelley for a solo homer to left for the cycle.
The last time the Mariners gave up a cycle to a player was on Sept. 29, 2001 to Miguel Tejada of the Oakland A’s.
For all of Wedge’s frustrations with Noesi’s inconsistency, he does believe the 25-year-old has the tools to be a big-league starter, if he can just find the focus.
“He has to recognize it, which I think he does,” Wedge said. “When it comes to being a big-league starter — and this is a guy we feel like can be that for a long time once he gets more consistency — you have to bring it 30 to 35 times. And you aren’t going to always you have to your best stuff, but you have to have a strong base to work off to give yourself a chance to win.”