In an effort to save some bullpen arms, the Seattle Mariners switched up their plan for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Orioles. Instead of using an opener ahead of Tommy Milone, as they have his past three appearances, the Mariners ran the left-hander out as a true starter for the first time in three weeks.
Milone has pitched in parts of nine major league seasons in varying roles, and doesn’t appear to get rattled, regardless of the situation he’s asked to throw in. He seemed just as calm making the adjustment against Baltimore, and didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning.
“Once I get into the game, I try to keep the same mindset regardless,” Milone said. “I felt good going out there to start the game, just like I have the past few games.”
But, when the Orioles finally did break through, stringing together a single and double in the fourth, followed by a three-run home run from Jonathan Villar, it was enough to hand Milone his first loss since May, and break up Seattle’s three-game winning streak.
The three earned runs Milone allowed matched a season-high, Seattle’s often-erratic bullpen allowed the lead to further slip away in the later innings, and the Mariners became the first team to drop a game to the reeling Orioles since June 11 with the 8-4 loss at T-Mobile Park.
“Tommy kind of does what he’s done for us most of the times out there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Threw the ball pretty good, just had the one inning where he gave up the three-run homer.
“We struggled in the bullpen today. I knew going into the game we were going to have to have some guys step up. I’m going to continue to give guys opportunity, and find out if they can take that opportunity and run with it. It just didn’t happen today.”
As much as the Mariners have sputtered in the first inning lately, Milone (1-2, 3.35 ERA) pitched a clean frame, retiring the Orioles in order, and giving Seattle an opportunity to grab an early lead in the bottom half of the inning. After Domingo Santana drew a two-out walk, Daniel Vogelbach put the Mariners in front 1-0 with a double center. Seattle carried the lead into the fourth, but never recovered from the Villar home run.
Despite walking a pair of batters in the second with one out, Milone preserved the lead by whipping around and firing a pick-off attempt back to Dee Gordon at second. Villar came up short of the bag trying to get back, and Gordon chased him down for the second out. Milone struck out Anthony Santander on the next pitch to retire the side.
He worked another quick inning in the third before the troublesome fourth, when Pedro Severino and Renato Nunez reached on back-to-back one-out hits ahead of the Villar knock that made it 3-1. Milone jammed a fastball up and in on Villar, but the switch-hitting second baseman went up and barreled it to left.
“That is the tricky thing,” Milone said. “If you miss up in the zone, sometimes it can do damage. But, that one specifically I felt was above the zone. I feel like more times than not I’ll get success out of that pitch. It was just one of those times where I didn’t.”
Milone pitched through the fifth, allowing the three earned runs on four hits, while walking three and striking out six on 75 pitches before Seattle turned to its shaky bullpen, that has struggled to find footing throughout the season. Each of the first three relievers who appeared for the Mariners allowed at least one run in their inning of work.
“It’s frustrating for all of us, certainly frustrating for them,” Servais said. “They have stuff. I think everybody sees they have velocity. They’ve got breaking pitches. It’s the inconsistency of getting it over the strike zone. You’ve got to control the zone, and a few of our guys haven’t done that. It catches up. It’s a walk, and then the ball falls in, and now you get behind in the count again and it’s a struggle to get a zero up there.”
A two-run Baltimore lead suddenly turned into a four-run lead in the sixth, when Gerson Bautista, after recording a pair of quick outs served up a two-run homer to Santander on an 0-2 slider. Making his first appearance since returning from Double-A Arkansas, Dan Altavilla allowed a leadoff single to Richie Martin in the seventh, and he eventually came around to score on a sac fly. And, in the eighth, the Orioles tacked more on off Jesse Biddle on a two-out RBI single by Hanser Alberto that scored two runs to make it 8-2.
Servais said the pitch selection among the relievers wasn’t the best, and many pitches lacked execution. Seattle’s bullpen has been a revolving door during the early stretch of the season, and Servais is still searching for consistent relievers who can make the necessary improvements.
“You try to stick with those guys as long as you can if they can make adjustments,” Servais said. “If not, then we’ll go elsewhere. But, right now, that’s where we’re at.”
Matt Festa was Seattle’s only reliever to post a scoreless frame, retiring the Orioles in order in the ninth, but the game was far out of reach by then.
Seattle’s offense couldn’t manage much against Baltimore starter Andrew Cashner (6-3, 4.37). After the Vogelbach RBI double in the first, the Mariners didn’t scratch across another run until the sixth, and produced just three hits through the four innings in between.
It didn’t help that Baltimore’s defense flashed some impressive glove work. Keon Broxton robbed Vogelbach of another extra-base hit to center in the fourth with a running grab, and a sliding catch on a Kyle Seager pop fly in foul territory by Alberto ended that inning. In the fifth, Tim Beckham appeared on his way to a leadoff single until Martin made a diving grab at short, and his throw just beat Beckham to the bag at first.
Santana led off the sixth with a double, and eventually scored on an error to cut the lead to 5-2. Santana added to his day with a solo homer to center in the eighth. It was his 17th of the season. He trails only Vogelbach (18) for the club lead.
“Domingo is swinging the bat outstanding,” Servais said. “All pitches. He’s on the breaking balls, the fastballs, he’s got really good timing at the plate. The thing that’s really stood out for me is how good of a feel Domingo has to hit. When to look for pitches, situations, how they’re going to pitch him. It is outstanding. That’s why he’s been able to have good years in the past, and he’s having a great year right now.”
The Mariners scored once more in the bottom of the ninth, when Mallex Smith ended a string of consecutive strikeouts in his previous three at-bats with a two-out RBI double to left center that scored Mac Williamson.