Luia Castillo was not his usual dominant self, but it was the bats which let the Mariners down as they wasted several scoring opportunities.
The Mariners headed into Toronto, hoping to continue where they left off last season. Instead, they opened the three-game series with a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
The defeat continued a worrying trend Seattle has developed this year, of coming up short in close contests. They now have a record of 3-8 in one-run games compared to 34-22 last season, with the 34 wins most in the Majors.
There is little doubt that Friday’s game was there for the taking, but the Mariners failed to deliver the knock-out punch. And once again, it was the offense which contributed most — or should that be least — to the loss.
Failure to take advantage
On the night, Seattle was just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Seven runners were left on base, including four on second base.
Matters started off well enough for the Mariners, when they took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Cal Raleigh hit a solo homer, a welcome improvement on the team’s scoreless effort the previous day.
In truth though, Seattle should have scored more in the inning. Following Raleigh’s blast, they loaded the bases with just one out.
Next up came Ty France, one of the few reliable hitters fans want to see in this type of scenario. However, he subsequently hit into a double play which ended the half inning with just a 1-0 lead.
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The Blue Jays made the Mariners pay in the bottom of the second, courtesy of their own solo home run blast from Alejandro Kirk. It also represented the first home run Luis Castillo had given up this season.
Seattle managed to regain the lead in the top of the third, helped largely by Jarred Kelenic. He led off the half inning with a single and then stole second base, before being brought home by Raleigh’s second RBI of the game.
For Kelenic specifically, his two hits in four at-bats represented better production while hitting third in the lineup. The last time he hit third on Wednesday, he went 0-for-4.
As for Seattle in general, their second lead of the game was similarly short-lived. Toronto tied up the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the third, after a Matt Chapman double scored Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Castillo has another subpar outing
Castillo’s previous start was his least productive of the year to date. While Friday’s outing saw some improvement, he still wasn’t up to his usual high standards.
The 30-year-old’s four strikeouts were his fewest of the 2023 campaign to date, while the six hits were his second-most allowed this year. He gave up a couple of walks to go with the two earned runs, as he equaled his season-low of just 5.0 innings.
In addition, nine of the 17 balls put in play versus Castillo were hit harder than 100 mph. As per Daniel Kramer of mlb.com, this was by far his most in any start since being traded to the Mariners last July.
In fairness to the two-time All-Star, what is considered a subpar outing for him is arguably a decent start for the average Major League pitcher. At the end of the day, he only allowed two scores versus a strong Toronto lineup averaging just under five runs per game this year.
More generally this year for Castillo, there has been some concern about a downturn in his velocity. This aspect was better on Friday night and more in line with last season’s average.
Blue Jays’ strong game plan
The two runs Castillo gave up, both came when he was behind in the count. Speaking after the game about how much of a part this played in the execution, he said:
“I struggled a little bit, not being able to get ahead on the count, but (I was) able to battle through the third, fourth and fifth inning. I made that adjustment, I feel like that’s when I was able to (get into a rhythm).”
The righty also discussed the Blue Jays’ strong game plan versus him in general. He said:
“What I saw was that they were attacking the ball. Lucky for me, we were able to battle up when I was on the mound. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result that we wanted, which was the victory, but I felt like I was up there battling through.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais believed Castillo did well in trying circumstances. He said:
“They had a really good game plan, particularly against Luis Castillo tonight. Luis was behind in some counts, (whereas) he typically isn’t. They got on a few fastballs, but he did his job. He hung in there.”
As already mentioned, it was the offense which was most at blame for Friday’s loss. They had Blue Jays’ starter Alex Manoah on the back foot, but didn’t take full advantage.
Manoah allowed six hits and four walks during his five innings of action. In fairness to him though, he did manage seven strikeouts to go along with just giving up the two runs.
Mariners offense goes quiet
Following Manoah’s departure, Seattle’s bats went silent. During the final four innings, the bullpen combined to strike out eight batters and not allow a single base runner.
Highlighting the Mariners’ struggles was Teoscar Hernandez, who had been on a tear of late. However, perhaps amped up too much to face his former team he went 0-for-4, as he left a team-high five runners on base.
Servais was under no illusion what cost them the game. He said:
“These one-run games are not going our way. We’ve been in a number of them. … To win on the road, you’ve got to hit on the road, and we’ve struggled here the last couple of days getting big hits.”
As we’ve asked recently, at what point does it stop being too early to be concerned about the Mariners’ results and play in general? If it’s any help, the 11-15 record through 26 games is only one win worse than last year at the same point.
What’s more worrying, is the apparent loss of being clutch in close games. This also includes being 0-4 in extra innings, another scenario they excelled in last season.
Serais is fully cognizant of the current issue, but remains confident the tide will turn. He said:
“We play so many close games. We’ve done it the last three or four years. We’re used to coming through in those spots, and it hasn’t happened yet. It will.”
Of more immediate concern, Chris Flexen will take the mound on Saturday afternoon versus the potent Blue Jays. The Mariners and their fans can only hope Flexen somehow turns around the awful beginning to his season.
What was your main takeaway for the Mariners from Friday’s loss in Toronto? Do you have any confidence in Flexen pitching well against the Blue Jays’ lineup? Let us know in the comments section below.