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April 3, 2013 at 11:09 PM

Slippery baseballs apparently the undoing of Joe Saunders and the Mariners

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Just got back up from the clubhouse. The good news is, Joe Saunders says his main undoing tonight was an unusually tough-to-grip baseball and his own inability to adjust to it. That’s good news only because the alternative — that the ball was fine and his stuff was just plain awful — is not something Mariners fans really want to be contemplating about their No. 3 starter.

We saw Charlie Furbush uncorking some wacky-looking pitches in the eighth, so you have to believe there is something to that strange ball explanation. I should mention that Saunders did not go to the ball answer as an excuse. I was the one who asked him about it first and he reluctantly answered.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge said both pitchers were unable to grip the ball properly for most of their outings and when that happens, anything but a straight fastball becomes a challenge.

So, that might explain some of why Saunders looked so terrible in this 6-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Saunders said he actually felt his command improved somewhat from spring training, when he posted that 11.57 ERA and had folks hoping he’d flip some kind of switch once the regular season began.

Instead, the only switches we saw tonight were the ones Saunders kept getting drawn and quartered with.

“It was hard,’’ Saunders said. “It felt like the balls had some funny stuff on them. Not to make excuses, you’ve got to make adjustments. It just felt like some of them were taking off.

“It felt like my arm felt good,’’ he added. “I felt like my command was actually better. It was just tough to grip the ball.’’

Now, believe me, I know what many of you are thinking. A’s pitcher Tommy Milone had no trouble getting in a groove after that second inning and shutting the Mariners down through seven. This isn’t the NFL, where you get to throw your own ball. Both teams use the same basket of baseballs.

But for some reason, the Mariners pitchers had trouble with them.

If it was just Saunders, well, I might roll my eyes a bit.

But we saw Furbush put Josh Reddick in the dirt with one pitch, then hit him in the back with the very next one. Then, he sent a ball soaring over the head of Brandon Moss.

I asked Kameron Loe, who gave up the two homers in the seventh, what he thought. Loe told me the baseball felt “really powdery” and like it had “a lot of resin” on it.

But Loe added that it had nothing to do with the home runs he gave up.

As for Saunders, though, he isn’t exactly going to blow you away with his fastball. So, if his secondary stuff is off, it’s going to be a long night.

“He just didn’t have the command with his secondary stuff that he typically has,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I thought he had a pretty good fastball. He came out and he looked strong. He battled. He controlled damage about as well as you can considering everything. But he just wasn’t able to ever really lock it in.’’

And again, of you can’t grip the baseball, your secondary stuff becomes pretty tough to execute.

Poor Jesus Montero was diving all over the place trying to get a handle on Saunders and his pitches. The two had some frequent exchanges in-game as they tried to get on the same page.

“I’ll have to take him out to dinner to kind of figure it out,’’ Saunders said. “But we’ve got to work on stuff. It was my first time with him, so it was a learning experience…it’s probably tough to call pitches for me because he didn’t know where it was going and I didn’t know where it was going at times.’’

Montero said he could tell something was very off with all the pitchers.

“This is the first time this has happened to us,’’ Montero said of the baseballs. “The ball was just flying away…we never got a feel for it. I don’t know what happened.’’

What happened is the Mariners just lost. They’ll try to win three out of four tomorrow afternoon. And hopefully, they’ll get a grip on things.





Comments | More in postgame | Topics: joe saunders; eric wedge; charlie furbush; kameron loe


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