By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Rookie lefty Roenis Elias set the bar pretty high in his last start. And, no, he wasn’t that good Saturday afternoon against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.
Still not bad, though.
Elias worked into the eighth inning in a 7-4 victory over the Rays. That will play, won’t it?
“That’s the biggest challenge for this young man now,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Just making sure he brings it, from a mental standpoint, every day. Not just against the elite, quote/unquote, teams in the league.”
High marks then for this effort.
“I’m doing what I’m capable of doing,” Elias said through an interpreter. “These are things that have made me successful in the past. I’m just working hard to keep that going.”
It helped, of course, the Mariners backed Elias (5-4) with an 11-hit attack, which included Dustin Ackley’s three-run double against Rays starter Alex Cobb on an 0-2 curve in a four-run fifth inning.
“I squared it up pretty good,” Ackley said. “Those are the ones you can’t miss. The ones that they leave up are the ones you need to hit.”
There was more.
Willie Bloomquist replaced an ailing Justin Smoak (sore left quadriceps) at first base and contributed two hits and two RBI.
Endy Chavez had two hits and a sacrifice fly as the leadoff hitter. Cole Gillespie hit his first homer since 2011. Everyone in the lineup reached base at least once as the Mariners won for the sixth time in seven games.
“They were able to take advantage of me throwing the fastball down the middle of the plate, for the most part,” said Cobb, who dropped to 1-4 and yielded all seven runs in his 41⁄3 innings.
“I just wasn’t hitting my spots very well.
Elias pitched a dazzling three-hit shutout last Sunday in a 4-0 victory over Detroit. This time, he yielded two runs in the second inning but little else until Evan Longoria’s two-run homer with two outs in the eighth.
“I felt good going out there (for the eighth),” Elias said. “It was just things that happen in baseball. A double and then a home run by Longoria. Good for them. At the end of the day, we still got the win.”
The Mariners went to their bullpen after Longoria’s homer. Danny Farquhar got the final out in the eighth and Fernando Rodney worked the ninth against his former club and got his 17th save in 19 chances.
Gillespie’s homer was a leadoff drive to center in the second inning that opened the scoring. It was his first big-league homer since Sept. 28, 2011, when he was playing for Arizona against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It was a ball that was kind of elevated,” he said. “I knew (Cobb) has got some pretty good sink and run. That one, he kind of left that over the plate. I put a good swing on it, but I don’t know how it carries here.
“So I was out of the box hard. But I was fortunate enough that it kept going. My teammates were quick to point out where it landed.”
The 1-0 lead only lasted until one out in the bottom of the inning, when James Loney tomahawked a first-pitch fastball from Elias for a homer into the right-field seats.
Elias found more trouble when Yunel Escobar followed with a walk and went to third on a single by Logan Forsythe. The Rays took a 2-1 lead on Ali Solis’ sacrifice bunt.
Oddly, Elias chose to come home when he fielded the ball. That play wasn’t close, but Mike Zunino threw to first for an out. Even so, the go-ahead run scored.
The Mariners regained the lead with two runs in the fourth.
Singles by Ackley and Brad Miller put runners at first and third with one out. Bloomquist tied the game by driving an RBI single over short before Chavez sent a sacrifice fly to deep center for a 3-2 lead.
Elias held the lead in the bottom of the inning by pitching around Escobar’s two-out double — a grounder under the glove of a stationary Seager at third — by striking out Forsythe.
The Mariners loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth when singles by Robinson Cano and Zunino sandwiched a walk to Seager. Ackley then cleared the bases with a drive into the right-center gap for a 6-2 lead.
“I had him 0-2,” Cobb said, “and that’s all you can ask for. I tried to bury a curveball and left it right in his swing path. That’s definitely a pitch that is going to be replayed in my mind over and over.”
Bloomquist made it 7-2 later in the inning with a two-out RBI double against reliever Cesar Ramos. That was plenty for Elias.
“At that point,” Ackley said, “he’s throwing the ball well anyway. To have that kind of insurance definitely helps.”