Mariners hitters struggle against Pirates' surprise starter in loss, 4-1

Garrett Jones’ 8th-inning homer clinches victory for Pittsburgh in series opener

Staff writerMay 7, 2013 

Mariners Pirates Baseball

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Aaron Harang delivers during the first inning of an interleague baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

GENE J. PUSKAR — AP

PITTSBURGH — On a night when scoring one run was a chore for the Seattle Mariners, falling behind by more than one run late in the game pretty much meant victory was out of the question.

Unfortunately, Carter Capps couldn’t keep the Mariners’ deficit at one run.

The hard-throwing right-hander gave up a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to Garrett Jones that turned a one-run game into a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday at PNC Park.

Jones got a 94 mph fastball over the middle of the plate that he could handle and hit a laser into the right-field seats.

Capps was furious on the mound and still clearly upset postgame. Watching the replays on video with catcher Kelly Shoppach brought little solace.

“I looked at it,” Capps said. “Shoppy said it was middle-in but it looked more middle-middle to me. It can’t happen.”

It did. And the Mariners were done.

A one-run deficit in the ninth was doable. A three-run deficit was too much to overcome, particularly against Pirates closer Jason Grilli and his 0.69 earned-run average. Grilli retired the side in order with two strikeouts to notch his major league-leading 13th save of the season.

“It’s tough to have that late,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of the Jones home run. “You are working hard to keep it a one-run game. You feel if you do keep it a one-run game, you have a chance because anything can happen in the ninth inning. Their guy put up a good at-bat, got a good pitch to hit and took care of it.”

Despite Capps’ high velocity on his fastball, both he and Wedge admitted he has to do something different against left-handed batters. In 24 plate appearances, lefties have nine hits off Capps (a .375 average), with three doubles and two homers.

“I think he needs to make some adjustments,” Wedge said. “I know Carl (pitching coach Carl Willis) has talked to Carter about it. We went through the same thing with (Stephen) Pryor a little bit. The league shows what you need to work on and what you need to do. He has some weapons in his arsenal to compete better against left-handers.”

Capps knows what those weapons are and how he has to use them. Capps threw a few breaking pitches to Jones in the at-bat but he could never get a swing-and-miss with them.

“I need to get them looking for something other than a fastball,” he said. “Right now, they are sitting dead red on the fastball and taking uncomfortable swings on everything else. But I didn’t execute with that fastball.”

To be fair, Jones’ homer didn’t lose the game for the Mariners. Even if it had been one run, there was a low chance they would have done something in the ninth based on the previous eight innings.

Seattle did little or nothing against Pirates emergency starter Jeanmar Gomez. Right-hander James McDonald was originally scheduled to start but about an hour and half before game time, the Pirates placed McDonald on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and slotted Gomez, a long reliever, to make his second start of the season.

The Mariners had to scramble at the last second to find scouting reports and some limited video to prepare for Gomez.

“Not much, it was such a last-minute switch,” Wedge said of information on Gomez.

The hitters just tried to figure it out as they went, talking to each other after at-bats after looking at the limited information they had on Gomez.

“It’s tough,” second baseman Dustin Ackley said. “Everybody has scouting reports and you have to just go up there and trust what little you know about the guy.”

Gomez pitched well, throwing five shutout innings and allowing two hits while walking two and striking out five.

“It wasn’t anything crazy,” Ackley said of Gomez’s stuff. “He located things well. Doesn’t matter what kind of stuff you have, if you locate the ball and move it up and down and in and out, you will have success.”

The Mariners played from behind after the first inning. Starter Aaron Harang gave up two runs in the first on an RBI double from Jackson High School of Mill Creek graduate Travis Snider and another RBI double from Andrew McCutchen, who went 4-for-4.

It looked like Harang might have another gruesome start like he had in Texas on April 21 but he righted himself and pitched five scoreless innings after that.

“He was really good,” Wedge said. “Those the last three innings in particular — that’s as probably as good as we’ve seen him. He’s starting to put it together. It was nice to see him get it locked in there.”

After being in baseball purgatory coming out of spring training and not pitching in a game until being signed by the Mariners, Harang (1-4) said he feels a little more normal now that he’s five starts into the season.

“With the three weeks off at the beginning of the season, I was just trying to find a rhythm,” he said. “We’ve done our work trying to figure things out. Obviously, the last two starts have shown that’s where I need to be at.”

The Mariners’ lone run came in the seventh. Ackley came up with a one-out single off lefty reliever Tony Watson and advanced to second on Shoppach’s ground-ball out.

With two outs, Wedge called on Jesus Montero to pinch-hit for Brendan Ryan.

Once Montero was announced, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called on right-hander Jose Contreras to pitch to Montero. Wedge then made a counter-move and brought in Raul Ibañez to hit for Montero. Ibañez was 9-for-15 in his career against Contreras coming into the game. He improved that to 10-for-16, lacing a double to the gap in right-center to score Ackley.

But that was all the offense the Mariners mustered. Endy Chavez pinch-hit for Harang and grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.

“That was the one inning we had a chance to do something,” Wedge said. “We were going to try and give it every opportunity we could. We got the match-ups we wanted. We pushed it and just came up a little bit short.”

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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