Gonzales' rhythm off as bats can't find big hit

June 9th, 2021

DETROIT -- Marco Gonzales settled in and pitched with conviction on Tuesday against the Tigers, capping his outing with back-to-back 1-2-3 innings. But he didn’t hit that groove until after the Tigers had hit him hard in the first two innings for four runs, which wound up being too big a deficit for the Mariners to climb out of on a night where Seattle’s own Matthew Boyd was sharp.

As such, the Mariners went quietly in a 5-3 loss at Comerica Park.

In his second start since a five-week stint on the injured list, Gonzales reached the 71-pitch threshold that the club hoped he would. But he would’ve preferred better results from the outset.

Detroit tagged him for six hard-hit balls (anything 95 mph or higher) in the first two innings -- including a 100.3 mph double by Robbie Grossman to lead off the game and a 104.1 mph homer from Eric Haase with Miguel Cabrera on first base. But Gonzales gave up just one hard-hit ball in his final two frames, when he struck out two, including Haase.

Gonzales admittedly didn’t have the crispest or sharpest stuff, possibly a byproduct of attempting to get back into a groove after an extended period on the shelf.

“My rhythm was a little off coming out in the first inning,” Gonzales said. “I think I came out with not as much fire as I usually do. I tried to settle in quickly after that and was happy to put up a couple zeros on the back end, but the first couple [innings] certainly was a little bit off my rhythm and tempo.”

A longer leash would’ve helped gauge Gonzales’ outing more adequately, but since that won’t be the case until he’s stretched back out, it was another on-then-off start for Seattle’s No. 1 starter. It was the third time he’s given up four or more runs in seven starts this season; he’s given up two or fewer in the other four.

“Coming out after the fourth, I felt positive, felt confident and was back on track, so to speak,” Gonzales said. "So yeah, that's the tough thing, I wish I had more pitches to give my team right now.”

At the plate, the Mariners had a rally in the works with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning, but they could only plate two, with Shed Long Jr. grounding into a 4-6-3 double play, Taylor Trammell clearing the last baserunner with an RBI double and Jack Mayfield punching out on three pitches to halt the momentum.

Then in the ninth, they had the potential tying run at the plate after Donovan Walton drew a leadoff walk, which flipped to the top of the order with no outs. But J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger each struck out, and Ty France lined out to center to end things quickly and quietly.

“We just couldn't get the big hit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I thought we put decent at-bats together.”

It didn’t help the Mariners’ efforts that Haniger could’ve easily had two doubles if not for some stellar defense in Detroit’s outfield -- including an inning-ending flyout that stranded two in the second, when Tigers left fielder Akil Baddoo converted on a remarkable running snag that had just a 5% catch probability, per Statcast, tied for the lowest converted play this season. Haniger also lined out to speedy center fielder Derek Hill to end the fourth, also with two on.

Had either of those landed in the gap, it’s possible that the Mariners would’ve been in a tie game after the eighth.  

“It changed the whole complexion of the game,” Servais said. “The game is probably tied at that point. ... Off the bat, I certainly thought it did [have a chance to land]. It was kind of weird. Normally, that ball from a right-handed hitter down the left-field line is going to hook some. That ball did not hook much. It just kind of hung up there. He squared it. He hit it really good. And obviously, Baddoo is probably one of their faster guys.” 

Such was the case on a tougher-than-usual-luck night, which dropped the Mariners to 30-32 and 2-3 halfway through their 10-game road trip. Seattle’s run-differential this season sits at minus-56, tied with the Tigers for the lowest in the American League.