BULLPEN IN, LEAD VANISHES
At least Washburn made it through six innings, though he gave back one run on a solo homer to left by Milton Bradley in that sixth. He was at 104 pitches by the time the inning was done, which meant he had to call it a night. The final line was a lot better than it could have looked — in fact, it’s a “quality start” of six innings, three runs on only three hits. He also had a 4-2 lead.
But the difference between winners and losers in the pitching game often hinges on the ability of a starter to go seven innings rather than six. Washburn barely went six and now, Julio Mateo just came on in the seventh and gave back two runs to the A’s — with Jason Kendall doubling home the tying marker. Brand new ballgame and new life in an A’s offense that couldn’t seem to do anything right.
Mateo was actually one of the brighter bullpen lights in spring training. But he gave up three hits that inning and two of them were hit rather hard, including the Kendall two-bagger to right center.
WASHBURN GIVEN THREE-RUN LEAD
Five innings in the books here and Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn now has a 4-1 lead courtesy of back-to-back doubles by Jose Guillen and Kenji Johjima and an RBI single by Ichiro in the fifth. Washburn has managed to keep the A’s from scoring for the most part, allowing only two hits, though three walks will likely end his night shorter than he wanted.
His pitch count is already at 89 — it could have been worse if not for a 1-2-3 fifth inning — so it’s up in the air whether he’ll be able to get through the sixth. There have been signs of activity in the Seattle bullpen, but nobody is officially up and throwing so he’ll get to start that sixth against the heart of Oakland’s batting order.
What’s intrigued me is just how many of Washburn’s two-strike offerings have been ripped tonight. In most cases, the balls are hit just foul down the line or go screaming into the stands. Usually, a hitter is on the defensive with two strikes on him in anything but a full count. But these A’s seem to be sitting on something. Good thing for Washburn they can’t seem to put the ball in-play when it matters.
Washburn looked to have helped his cause with a 1-2-3, eight-pitch third inning, but ran into the same old walk trouble in the fourth. He got the first two outs, then walked Nick Swisher. He finally got Bobby Kielty to ground out on a 2-2 pitch, but his pitch count had already shot up to 75 by then. A’s starter Joe Blanton was at 53 pitches after the same four innings following strikeouts of Raul Ibanez and Sexson to end the fourth.
Blanton appeared to be in good shape at that point, but the rough fifth inning may have given Washburn and the Mariners the break they needed.
One thing’s for certain. The Seattle bullpen should be tested more thoroughly tonight that it was yesterday.
SEXSON GIVES WASHBURN SOME HELP
The Mariners were trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the second, but Raul Ibanez ripped a single off the glove of first baseman Nick Swisher and Richie Sexson just took a Joe Blanton pitch the opposite way to right field for his second home run in two games. Sexson’s homer came with the count full and gives Seattle a 2-1 lead heading into the third.
The A’s actually scored their first earned run of 2007 before the Mariners did, as Mark Ellis hit a sacrifice fly to right field to bring home Bobby Kielty from third.
Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn needed the break Sexson’s bat just gave him. Washburn doesn’t look nearly as dominant as Felix Hernandez did on Monday. Washburn hails from Wisconsin, so he’s used to cooler weather. It was only 50 degrees at game time, with the winds making it feel that much colder. Don’t know if that’s affecting Washburn’s pitches, but he’s having trouble getting them over when he needs to. He’s allowed two walks already and his pitch count is bulging at 48. Only one ball has been hit hard off him — a Bobby Crosby single to right center that moved Kielty from first to third with one out.
Right now, Washburn’s pitching like a guy who’ll be out of the game before the sixth inning. He has to start landing more first-pitch strikes. A few strikes on his second and third pitches wouldn’t hurt either. This one’s far from over. Blanton looks very human on the mound for Oakland, but he keeps getting the ground balls he needs — Sexson’s blast aside. I doubt either starter will factor in the decision tonight.
Ellis had two strikes on him when he muscled the fly ball to right.
Here are the lineups on a chilly, windy night at Safeco Field. Glad to be up in the pressbox for this one. Should be a good primer for this weekend’s series in Cleveland.
Jason Kendall C
Shannon Stewart LF
Milton Bradley CF
Mike Piazza DH
Eric Chavez 3B
Nick Swisher 1B
Bobby Kielty RF
Bobby Crosby SS
Mark Ellis 2B
RHP Joe Blanton
Adrian Beltre 3B
Jose Vidro DH
Raul Ibanez LF
Richie Sexson 1B
Jose Guillen RF
Kenji Johjima C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Jose Lopez 2B
LHP Jarrod Washburn
So, let’s see if any of this silliness with Blanton continues. I mean, he’s a good young pitcher, but hardly Cy Young. Why he’s 6-1 with a 2.50 ERA lifetime versus the Mariners is anyone’s guess. Much of that was because of his 4-0 mark last year against the M’s and as manager Mike Hargrove told us an hour ago, plenty of Oakland pitchers had good records against Seattle in 2006. That’s what happens when your team goes 17-2 against one squad.
Will have to see how Washburn fares. This shouldn’t be too much of a lefty on lefty test for him, since Chavez is the only lefthanded hitter in the Oakland lineup. Bradley, Swisher and Kielty are all switch-hitters, but I doubt Washburn’s struggles versus lefties are that pronounced that these guys would actually consider hitting lefthanded against a southpaw.
Ventured into the visitors’ clubhouse before the game for a chat with longtime acquaintance Stewart. He told me that the Felix Hernandez he faced in the opener was very reminiscent of the one he saw two years ago, when Stewart was still playing for the Minnesota Twins. Stewart has seen Hernandez since, but wasn’t as impressed as he was this time around.
One thing you should know about Stewart. He’s a contact hitter and it isn’t often he swings and misses with two strikes on him. But he did just that to end an Oakland rally in Monday’s sixth inning, with a runner on third.
“He made me look real bad,” Stewart said of the Hernandez slider in the dirt. “That pitch was down on the ground.”
Jason Kendall had struck out in a previous at-bat that same inning, his third whiff of the day. Kendall has only struck out three times in one game on three other occasions in his long career — now at 1,546 games. That tells you a lot about the kind of night Hernandez had.
Hernandez’s mother, Mirian, by the way was seated in the Safeco Field stands watching her son — and crying tears of joy. She had never seen him pitch live in a big-league game before. Picked a good one.
Things were not as cheery in the visitors’ clubhouse today, I should add. That’s because pitcher Esteban Loaiza has left the team and returned to California to have his right shoulder examined. Loaiza strained the right trapezius muscle behind his shoulder, but word now is, he’s likely going to miss a lot more time than first suspected. That’s real bad news for the A’s. In other words, this is the time for the Mariners to pounce. Nothing like beating on a team when they’re down — even this early in a season. No sense waiting until Oakland has its second-half bounce.
BULLPEN IN, LEAD VANISHES