By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
CINCINNATI — Sure, the Fourth of July loss in Texas was a frustrating failure to sweep a series and another exhibition of lack of hitting with runners in scoring position. And, yes, Saturday’s loss in Cincinnati was ugly and difficult to watch.
But on Sunday, the Seattle Mariners picked up a 3-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
With the victory, they finished 4-2 on their six-game road trip, taking 2-of-3 against the Rangers, who have 50 wins this season, and 2-of-3 from the Reds, who also have 50 wins.
“It’s a real good trip,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s the big leagues, man. You play Texas on the road, a team that’s won 50-some games. And Cincinnati on the road, same thing. You’ve got 30 to 40,000 fans here a night, you’re into July, and you know it gets more real when you get into July. It’s a real good road trip for us. You’d have liked to have won one more, but you don’t get greedy this time of year. You work hard to win series. Our guys fought hard, and played pretty good baseball.”
Sunday’s win started with Joe Saunders.
The veteran lefty went 2-0 on the road trip in less than pitcher friendly conditions. On Sunday, he worked seven innings, giving up one run on six hits. He struck out two and didn’t walk a batter.
Against a lineup featuring Shin-Soo Choo (1-for-4), Jay Bruce (0-for-4) and all-stars Brandon Phillips (1-for-4) and Joey Votto (1-for-4), Saunders rarely put himself in serious trouble. And when he did, he made pitches or got defensive plays to get out of the inning.
“Joe was really good,” Wedge said. “They have some superstars in that lineup offensively that can do a lot of damage, and he did great.”
Saunders’ didn’t do anything fancy. On a bright sunny day in the hitter’s paradise known as Great American Ball Park, he just tried to not leave pitches up where hitters could launch long fly balls.
“I was working with (pitching coach) Carl (Willis) in the bullpen on my sinker,” Saunders said. “It’s very key in this ballpark to keep the ball down, obviously. Me and (catcher Mike Zunino) did a great job of that tonight against a really good hitting lineup. … So I just tried to keep the ball on the ground the best I could.”
He was able to get 10 ground ball outs in his seven innings.
The lone run allowed came in the seventh. Saunders gave up a one-out double to Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey followed with an RBI double to left. That earned a quick visit from Willis.
“Carl came out there and said ‘Let’s refocus here and keep the ball down and use your sinker,’” Saunders said. “I just missed up with Heisey.”
Saunders ended the rally there, getting a pair of ground ball outs.
It was the seventh time in eight starts that Saunders has pitched seven innings or more. The only exception was a 12⁄3-inning stint against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 25 at Safeco Field.
“I feel like it’s my job to get deep into games and chew up innings and give us a chance every night,” Saunders said. “I thought I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that, except that one hiccup against Pittsburgh.
The bullpen did its job in efficient fashion.
Charlie Furbush pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Tom Wilhelmsen needed just five pitches to retire the side in the ninth for his 18th save of the season.
“You’ve all seen how good Tom can be,” Furbush said. “He went through that little rough patch there, but he’s been looking good and feeling good and I think he’s in a good spot right now to really keep this going and anchor down the back of the bullpen.”
The run support came early and on two swings of the bat.
Nick Franklin, still limping a little with a swollen knee, belted a solo homer in the first inning off Reds start Bronson Arroyo to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. It was his sixth homer of the season.
In the third inning, Justin Smoak hit a two-run opposite-field homer to left to push the lead to 3-0. It was Smoak’s seventh homer of the season.
The Mariners now head home for a four-game series against the Red Sox and a three-game set against the Angels before the all-star break.
“We are building momentum right now,” Furbush said. “Once we get back home, we have to keep it going and not let our foot off the gas. Everything is coming together — pitching, hitting and defense. I think it’s going to work out well.”