SEATTLE —Joe Saunders hadn’t been yanked from a start this early in four years.
And he had not given up that many runs in his previous five starts combined. Add it all up and this Tuesday night debacle for Saunders in a 9-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates was pretty forgettable.
In fact, he said as much postgame when somebody asked whether he remembered his prior outing this brief from back in 2009.
“I do not,” he said. “And I won’t remember this one tomorrow either.”
Most of the 21,074 fans at Safeco Field likely feel the same way after Saunders and the Mariners were blitzed for five home runs by an upstart Pirates crew now 17 games over .500. Three of the home runs came off Saunders in his second and final inning of work.
Starling Marte hit his first of two homers on the night that inning, to go with an earlier triple off Saunders. Russell Martin also hit a solo shot off Saunders, while Brandon Inge broke the game open with a three-run blast.
Marte later added a solo shot in the eighth and Gaby Sanchez did the same in the ninth, both blasts off Carter Capps. Kyle Seager hit a solo homer in the sixth off Pirates starter Jeff Locke.
Justin Smoak added a two-run shot in the ninth inning, but it was far too late to help Seattle avoid falling back to 10 games under .500. Locke allowed two runs over seven innings, improving to 7-1 with a 2.06 earned-run average as a key cog in an above-average starting rotation to go along with Pittsburgh’s emerging core of young talent.
That talent was on-display right from the get-go as Marte led the game off by lining an 0-2 pitch into the right-field corner and using his speed for the rest. Despite an excellent throw back in by Jason Bay and a bullet relay to third, Marte dived in safely with a leadoff triple and scored moments later.
Saunders made it out of the rest of that inning. But the second was an entirely different animal.
“It was just one of those things where I just couldn’t find it, tried to find it and it just wasn’t there,” he said. “It’s an easy fix. You turn the page. This was almost easier than giving up one run in eight innings. Those hurt a little bit more. These are few and far between, so you just turn your head and go get them next time.”
Saunders had indeed given up just one run in eight innings his last outing in Anaheim, the lone run scoring on a wild pitch. That was enough to saddle him with a 1-0 loss in what has been a hard-luck season even when he doesn’t get pounded as he did here.
In fact, he’d given up just five runs his last five outings combined before the early six-spot here. Mariners catcher Mike Zunino had caught Saunders in Anaheim last week and said the difference was obvious.
“We just missed our spots a little bit tonight and that was sort of the key to the whole night with everybody,” Zunino said. “We fell behind a little bit too much and then we were missing our spots when we tried to get back in counts.”
The Mariners used the early blowout to get Blake Beavan some long relief work. Tom Wilhelmsen also struck out the side in the seventh inning to finally get back somewhat on track after a tough prior month.
“I’ve told him for the last few outings that his stuff’s been great,” Zunino said. “I mean, he’s made a couple of mistakes on some pitches, but his stuff’s there. I think it’s just a matter of his getting his confidence back and today is something to build on.”
Zunino and Wilhelmsen talked in batting practice before Tuesday’s game and on previous days about what they’d like to do — especially when it came to deploying the curveball. Wilhelmsen used the curve with lethal effectiveness this time, perhaps signaling better things ahead.
Of course, it may all be somewhat too late to save anything real about this season. Mariners manager Eric Wedge saw his latest winning streak snapped at two and his club has yet to win more than three in a row all year.
Wedge thought briefly about leaving Saunders out there to try to correct things and soak up some innings. But he quickly dismissed that and opted for Beavan.
“The way it was going, I didn’t feel like we could leave him out there,” Wedge said. “I didn’t feel like it was right for him or for us.”