Gonzales deals, but bats can't back him up -- again

July 2nd, 2022

SEATTLE -- It looked, sounded and -- based on the reaction from the gathered masses at T-Mobile Park -- felt like it was gone off the bat. 

In the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded and two outs and not much else brewing to that point on Friday night, Jesse Winker demolished a middle-middle fastball from A’s reliever Zach Jackson. But Winker again received a rude reminder of how challenging Seattle’s home park can be on hitters, as his 103.3 foot shot to straightaway center field died just shy of the wall, falling into Ramón Laureano’s glove to quash the would-be rally.

The Mariners didn’t get much else going in a 3-1 loss to last-place Oakland, and -- aside from Winker’s near heroics and a deep flyout by Cal Raleigh in the ninth -- Friday’s game featured the familiar formula that has been a culprit in keeping the club from climbing back to .500 (a standing that the team hasn't reached since May 3): another strong showing from a starting pitcher, squandered by a lack of run support.

 threw six solid innings, but the two runs he surrendered proved decisive after the Mariners’ offense had just four hits and didn’t put a runner in scoring position until the sixth inning. Making matters more difficult to digest was that the offensive showing, or lack thereof, came against A’s starter James Kaprielian, whom they had tagged for an .824 OPS and 6.26 ERA in seven appearances dating back to 2020.

Julio Rodríguez hit a one-out triple in the sixth that came a few feet shy of leaving the yard and scored when Winker hit a groundout in the next at-bat. But that represented the Mariners’ lone offensive showing. Even with Seattle having won eight of 10 coming into the weekend, it reinforced a consistent -- and nagging -- trend.

Dating back to May 27, Seattle’s rotation leads the Majors with a 2.98 ERA in 34 games following Gonzales’ outing on Friday, ahead of Boston (3.18) and Tampa Bay (3.21), which have been two of the Majors’ better teams overall in that stretch.

Seattle's rotation since May 27:

ERA: 2.98 (1st)
IP: 193 (2nd)
WHIP: 1.19 (7th)
OPS: .684 (7th)
LOB%: 83.4% (1st)
Run support average: 4.88 (14th)

Gonzales has been stung particularly hard by a lack of run support, despite putting together another strong season. Friday’s outing was his fourth straight quality start (three earned runs or fewer and at least six innings) and 10th overall, which leads the Mariners. Yet, overall, Seattle fell to 5-11 when he’s on the mound compared to 32-31 behind everyone else.

“Right now, I’m just trying to have tunnel vision,” Gonzales said. “And just really focus on what I need to do to get better, make the guys around me better, and I feel like that's all we can control. So, I’m just going out there and keep working and keep competing.”

Perhaps even more vital than the consistency from the rotation is that it has remained healthy all year after being besieged by injuries in 2021 to the point where 15 different pitchers made at least one start.

This year, they’ve used just six starters (not including a one-time opener): Gonzales, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, Chris Flexen, George Kirby and Matt Brash, the last of whom is transitioning to a bullpen role in the Minors. Seattle is the only team in the Majors to have at least five different pitchers throw at least five quality starts.

Moreover, that group has compiled 438 1/3 innings this season, second-most in the Majors to only San Diego, underscoring a starter’s inherent value to pitch deep into games -- a value that takes on deeper meaning in an era when bullpens are leaned on more than ever.

“That’s the vision from the start of Spring Training,” Gonzales said. “We have a tight-knit group and we learn from each other, we watch bullpens together, we compete against each other and root for each other at the same time. I’ve been proud of this group.”

The two runs plated against Gonzales on Friday were at the hands of Tony Kemp, who scored the first from third base on an RBI single by Sean Murphy in the fifth. The second, Kemp's single in the sixth, drove in Sheldon Neuse from second base. Both hits came with two outs.

Other than those hiccups, Gonzales felt good about surrendering just six hard-hit balls among the 24 in play, while pitching with traffic. Gonzales entered the night holding hitters to a .158/.250/.386 (.636 OPS) slash line with runners in scoring position. The timing of that sixth-inning at-bat from Kemp proved too costly, thanks to a grander issue faced by the club lately.

The Mariners have been on the up the past two weeks, scoring 50 runs over their past 10 games coming into Friday -- but they’re still looking to do so more consistently for their longest-tenured starter.