By Ryan Divish
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE —Asked for and delivered with some extras.
In the hours before the Mariners took to the field at T-Mobile Park with the roof closed on a perfect summer Sunday, manager Scott Servais met with the media via video conference call and said that they needed Justus Sheffield to “carry the load” with the underachieving bullpen overused and scuffling.
Sheffield carried the load by delivering perhaps best outing in a Mariners uniform and again providing a glimpse of hope as to the pitcher he could become.
The young lefty tossed six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits while striking out seven batters and not issuing a single walk in the Mariners’ 5-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies. The Mariners close out the homestand by avoiding being swept in the three-game series. They flew out after the game to Dallas-Fort Worth to begin a nine-day, eight-game road, starting with three games against the Rangers at brand-new Globe Life Field.
Sheffield did all the things the Mariners’ preach about finding success, throwing first-pitch strikes, winning 1-1 counts and staying efficient within the strike zone while shutting down a Rockies’ offense that came into the game scoring five or more runs in 11 games and leads MLB averaging 5.50 runs per game. Sure the starting lineup didn’t feature stalwarts Nolan Arenado and Daniel Murphy, who got days off, but it was more about what Sheffield’s command and efficiency.
He threw 91 pitches in the game with 61 strikes. Of the 22 batters he faced, he generated first-pitch strikes on 16. In the other six at-bats where he didn’t deliver first-pitch counts, he came back with a strike on the next pitch. He didn’t have a 2-0 count in his entire outing.
The only batter that generated contact with an exit velocity of more than 100 mph was Charlie Blackmon, who is arguably the hottest hitter in baseball. Blackmon had a first-inning double with a 107-mph exit velocity to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He advanced to third on he passed ball and was the only runner to reach third while Sheffield was on the mound.
Besides Blackmon’s double, the only other runner to reach scoring position off Sheffield came in the fourth inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Blackmon, who had nine hits in the series, and with one out Sheffield allowed a single to David Dahl. With runners on first and second, he got Elias Diaz to pop on the first pitch and then struck out Ryan McMahon with a nasty slider to end the inning.
Dylan Moore provided Sheffield with some early offense against Rockies starter German Marquez. A night after breaking up a no-hitter in the sixth inning, J.P. Crawford, batting the leadoff spot, started the bottom of the first with a crisp single to center bringing Moore to the plate. Marquez, the master of the slider, threw a fastball that Moore hammered over the wall in right-center for a two-run homer and a 2-0 lead. It was Moore’s third homer of the season.
After the stellar outing from Sheffield, Servais was forced to turn the game over to his bullpen, which has to feel like rolling loaded dice with your rent money on the line.
Erik Swanson delivered a brilliant 1-2-3 seventh inning, striking out two batters and showing a fastball that touched 97 mph.
The Mariners’ offense even gave the bullpen some insurance, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly from Evan White and back-to-back RBI singles from Tim Lopes and Dee Gordon.
And those insurance runs proved to be needed.
After getting two quick outs in the eighth inning, Dan Altavilla couldn’t get the third out, issuing a walk, giving up an RBI single, issuing another walk and giving up another RBI single. Servais went to right-hander Taylor Williams, who immediately allowed an RBI single to Matt Kemp to cut the lead to 5-3. But he came back to strike out Murphy, who entered as a pinch-hitter, and then worked a scoreless ninth to notch his third save of the season.