CHICAGO — Really, this shouldn’t be a complete surprise. It’s happened before this season. The list of lesser-known, average pitchers that have shut down the Seattle Mariners isn’t small or exclusive. Names like Robbie Ross Jr., Collin McHugh, Nick Tepesch, Nick Hahn and Josh Tomlin are penciled on there.
With an offense that is as inconsistent and prone to scoring droughts as the Mariners, an opponent’s fifth starter can suddenly look like an All-Star during any given start.
But Hector Noesi? This one stings.
After all, the Mariners endured countless Noesi starts and relief appearances where his above-average stuff was crushed because of less-than-average focus. In 36 appearances (19 starts), Noesi was 2-14 with a 6.13 earned-run average.
On Sunday, the former Mariner pitcher tossed 62/3 scoreless innings against his old team, leading the White Sox to a 1-0 win on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. With the loss, the Mariners fall to 48-40. Since 2008, they are 5-23 at U.S. Cellular and haven’t won a series at the park since 2007.
Noesi, who the Mariners designated for assignment in April, has always had the talent. Blessed with a mid-90s fastball, natural movement and good off-speed pitches, he’s got the ability to be good. It’s why he’s managed to stay in the big leagues despite a career 5.74 ERA. Every team believes they can fix him.
“He’s always had really good stuff,” Seager said. “That’s never been the issue.”
The issue has been actually using that stuff to his advantage. Instead, he’s been hindered by mental lapses, shaky command and free base runners.
The Mariners never forced him into any of those situations.
Noesi allowed just five hits, walked two and struck out five. If you couple this outing with a relief appearance against the Mariners for Texas, Noesi has thrown nine scoreless innings against his old team.
“You have to give him some credit,” said Robinson Cano. “But we chased a lot of pitches out of the zone. That’s what makes the pitcher even better. When you start chasing it, he doesn’t have to throw you strikes.”
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon wasn’t about to give Noesi any credit and was clearly frustrated with his team.
“If you’re looking for accolades from me, you’d probably be better off going to talk to them about that,” McClendon said. “We swung at a lot of balls today. If we were patient, we probably should have walked seven or eight times. We just didn’t have good at-bats.”
The game wasn’t a slugfest, with just seven combined hits between the teams.
The White Sox only managed two hits, but scored a run on a wild pitch off Seattle starter Taijuan Walker in the first inning. It was the ninth time in club history the Mariners lost a game despite giving up two hits or less.
Walker struggled with his fastball command for the second straight start.
“It just wasn’t there,” he said. “The last two games I haven’t felt comfortable with my fastball and that’s my best pitch.”
Walker will spend the days leading up to his next start trying to find it.
“I’m going to go back and watch video and get it figured out,” he said. “I just get too quick and get excited. I think it’s something small.”
McClendon pulled Walker after 83 pitches and four innings. He had given up two hits, walked five batters (one intentional) with three strikeouts and two wild pitches.
“They didn’t do any damage off of him, he did the damage to himself,” McClendon said. “For me, it was a disappointing outing. We’ve got to shore some things up. He just didn’t have command of the strike zone.”
Seattle still had a chance. Dominic Leone and Brandon Maurer came in and threw two scoreless innings each to keep the Mariners down just 1-0. But the offense couldn’t scratch across that tying run.
The Mariners had a few chances, most notably after forcing Noesi from the game in the seventh inning with two outs and runners on first and second.
Eric Surkamp walked Michael Saunders to load the bases for Cano. But the Mariners’ best hitter couldn’t come through. He lined out to center to end the inning.
The Mariners were 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners.
“That happens,” McClendon said. “We’ve been good in those situations, but today we were not very good.”