SEATTLE — At some point when Ryan Rowland-Smith pitched well enough to give the Seattle Mariners a chance to win, they were bound to actually do that.
Until Tuesday night, the left-hander’s five starts this season had ended either in defeat or a no decision regardless how he pitched.
This time, Rowland-Smith was at his best and the Mariners backed him with just enough offense to beat the Minnesota Twins 3-2 at Safeco Field.
Rowland-Smith, rocked by the Twins two starts ago in Minnesota, held them to five hits and two runs in seven innings. It was his third game since being converted from reliever to starter.
“He did a good job for us in the bullpen and made a case for himself there,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “But to pitch like he has now after coming back from the minor leagues as a starter, it will be a real boost if he can continue anything like this.”
If the Mariners hope to elevate themselves to the Twins’ level and become contenders, they’ll need pitching like they got Tuesday.
After Rowland-Smith, right-hander Roy Corcoran pitched the final two innings and got through the Twins’ dangerous lineup from top to bottom with barely a scratch.
Corcoran walked Alexi Casilla with one out in the eighth but rescued himself with a couple of ground-ball outs, including a bouncer up the middle by Justin Morneau that illustrated Tug Hulett’s range at second base. Hulett, making a spot start as Riggleman sought to keep his swing from getting rusty, made a backhand grab deep behind second base and threw to first in time to get Morneau by less than a half-step.
Corcoran gave up a two-out single to Jason Kubel in the ninth before Nick Punto flied to left to end the game.
It was Corcoran’s first career save after he’d saved 82 minor league games in seven-plus seasons. It also was an improvement over his last outing two days earlier when he came within one out of a save against Oakland before faltering in the ninth and needing J.J. Putz to finish.
“I didn’t get it done that time,” Corcoran said. “This time I stayed back a little more and didn’t try to do too much the last couple of hitters. I wanted to keep the ball down and make them pound it into the ground and get good results.”
While he did, Putz stayed in the bullpen.
Putz had either pitched or warmed up in eight of the previous 10 games and Riggleman wasn’t going to use him. When the manager saw Putz get up before the ninth, he called bullpen coach Norm Charlton.
“I told Norm to sit him down,” Riggleman said. “I’m sure he wanted to be in that game but we need to take care of him for the future.”
Speaking of the future, Rowland-Smith inserted himself firmly into it.
He gave up only two runs in the sixth, including a solo homer by Randy Ruiz that tied the score 2-2, then retired the next four hitters he faced.
Rowland-Smith opened the game by walking Denard Span before retiring six straight. His only dicey moment, until the sixth, was when the Twins put runners on second and third with one out in the third. He got out of it with two ground balls.
Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau went a combined 2-for-6 off Rowland-Smith but didn’t factor in the scoring.
“As long as I got through those guys, I felt pretty confident,” he said. “That first inning when I was able to get Mauer out, I felt like, ‘All right, I can stick to my plan.’”
Of course, there was the matter of the Mariners backing him with some runs.
They did with Jeff Clement’s two-run single in the second inning and Jose Lopez’s RBI single in the sixth.
The Mariners then did something rare. They held on to win for only the eighth time in 60 games in which they scored three or fewer runs.
“We have had so many games just like that right down to the wire and quite often came up on the short end,” Riggleman said. “But when you’re playing games that close it’s an indication hopefully that you’re not that far away from being a good ballclub.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com