Kikuchi scratched, then Cortes struggles

August 15th, 2020

Momma said there’d be days like this, though she never mentioned innings like the first one the Mariners faced in Friday’s 11-1 loss to the Astros.

With left-hander scratched just 60 minutes before the first pitch of the series opener due to neck spasms, Houston teed off on emergency starter and for nine runs (seven earned) on seven hits, three walks, two home runs, a pair of errors and a catcher’s interference call before the cardboard cutout fans had even settled into their seats at Minute Maid Park.

The Mariners appeared in jeopardy of breaking their franchise record of 11 runs allowed in an inning until designated hitter Yordan Alverez grounded into a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play on a 111.7-mph shot that was the hardest hit ball of the inning.

By that time, Alvarez -- last year’s American League Rookie of the Year Award winner -- had already lifted a three-run homer into the Crawford Boxes in left field in his first at-bat after returning from a bout with COVID-19 that had him on the injured list for Houston’s first 18 games.

Yuli Gurriel ripped the other home run off Cortes, who was making the second start of his MLB career and first with the Mariners. The 25-year-old had posted a 7.36 ERA in 7 1/3 innings over four outings out of the bullpen after being acquired from the Yankees last November.

Mariners manager Scott Servais said he’s not certain yet of Kikuchi’s status, but he's hopeful it’s a short-term issue.

“It was bugging him when he came in and tried to get some treatment on it,” Servais said. “He went into the batting cage and tried to throw and he just wasn’t going to be able to post. It’s a spasm thing in his neck, and I hope he’s able to maybe bounce back and we can slide him back into the rotation and not have to wait a whole another week before he pitches. We’ll probably know more tomorrow.”

Cortes said he was shagging balls in the outfield when he was told he’d be starting, but he was excited for the opportunity and felt strong after not pitching since Aug. 6.

A leadoff flyout by George Springer was reversed by the catcher’s interference call and center fielder Kyle Lewis misplayed an ensuing single by Josh Reddick to put two runners in scoring position. Cortes then struck out Jose Altuve before giving up four hits -- including the back-to-back homers and a double -- as well as a pair of walks before being lifted.

“The stuff that happened in the game, I have to do a better job of staying focused and making pitches,” Cortes said. “It felt like I was unlucky for a little bit, but I have to keep on executing pitches and keep going.”

Cortes wound up throwing 41 pitches before being replaced by Shaw, and he said that he had some inflammation and soreness in his left triceps afterward and will be reexamined on Saturday.

“I felt really good coming in,” Cortes said. “I’m not a guy that walks too many guys, so maybe that could have been the case [when losing command late in the inning]. But I’m not not trying to make excuses. I just have to make better pitches.” 

The Mariners were already without one of their other starters, as Kendall Graveman is on the 10-day injured list with a neck issue of his own and it’s not clear yet if he’ll be able to return this season. Nick Margevicius, a 24-year-old lefty, will make his second start in place of Graveman in Saturday’s 4:10 p.m. PT game, live on MLB.TV.

That could be a further challenge for Seattle’s bullpen, as Margevicius was pulled after 61 pitches in a scoreless 3 1/3-inning start in his rotation debut last Saturday since he’d been pitching out of the bullpen, so he’ll likely again be on an abbreviated pitch count.

Seattle did get some strong relief Friday from Rule 5 Draft selection, rookie Yohan Ramirez, who struck out four in three innings of one-run ball. Brady Lail, claimed off the White Sox on Monday and added to the 28-man roster prior to Friday’s game, threw three scoreless frames with one hit and three strikeouts in his debut.

Those efforts helped save some of the ‘pen for Saturday’s game, but Servais said he’s hopeful Margevicius can go five innings. The club also could bring right-handed rookie Art Warren or lefty Taylor Guilbeau off the traveling taxi squad if needed, which would be possible if Cortes needs to go on the IL.

The loss dropped the Mariners to 7-14 on the season. They’re 1-4 against the Astros this year and 2-22 since the start of 2019.