SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge wasn’t ready to make a change at closer in the immediate aftermath of their 6-1 loss at the hands of the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.
But after yet another blown save by Tom Wilhelmsen, Wedge is being forced to re-evaluate his options.
Wilhelmsen (0-2) allowed the Astros to score five runs in the ninth inning while recording just one out on a sacrifice bunt. Wilhelmsen has struggled immensely for Seattle over the last few weeks. Since earning his 11th save of the year in a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees on May 16, Wilhelmsen has struggled to control his pitches. He’s worked just one clean inning in his last 11 appearances and has blown four saves in his last nine opportunities.
Wilhelmsen had converted his last four save opportunities and appeared to be getting back on the right track with his command.
That was before Wednesday night.
Wilhelmsen entered for the ninth inning after Seattle managed to scratch out an unearned run to take a 1-0 lead over the Houston Astros. But control problems resurfaced as Wilhelmsen struggled to find the strike zone.
“I felt great tonight with the exception of not being able to throw a curveball for a strike,” Wilhelmsen said.
When he did find the strike zone, the pitches were up and over the plate allowing the Astros to take advantage.
“We’ve got to get Tom driving the ball downstairs — missing down,” Wedge said.
Wedge wasn’t willing to commit to a change in closer but did say it’s something they are being forced to look at more carefully.
“Tom Wilhelmsen is still our closer standing here right now,” Wedge said. “The game just got over. Anything we do will involve a lot of conversation. We will make sure we do the right thing for the right reasons for this club and for each individual on this club.”
The Mariners offense had been stymied by Astros starter Jordan Lyles for seven innings before finally scratching out a run against Houston’s bullpen in the eighth. Endy Chavez singled to lead off the eighth inning. Shortstop Marwin Gonzalez picked up an error when he dropped the throw from Hector Ambriz on a bunt from Jason Bay that would have been in time to beat Chavez at second base.
After a pop out from Kyle Seager and strikeout by Raul Ibanez, Seager lined a single to right to drive in Chavez and give the Mariners their only run.
The Astros then rallied against Wilhelmsen in the ninth. Jason Castro and J.D. Martinez led off with a pair of singles and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt from Carlos Corporan. After an intentional walk of Carlos Pena, Chris Carter doubled off the wall in left field to score a pair and give the Astros their first lead of the game. Another intentional walk loaded the bases again and brought the hook for Wilhelmsen.
Brandon Barnes drove in another run when his drive to left field glanced off the glove of Jason Bay and gave the Astros a 3-1 lead. Marwin Gonzalez drove in two more on a single to center off Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush walked in another.
Paul Clemens (4-2) earned the victory for Houston.
Both bullpens squandered brilliant outings from their respective starting pitchers. Lyles allowed just three hits over seven innings of work with a career-high 10 strikeouts. Jeremy Bonderman pitched equally well for the Mariners. Bonderman allowed just three hits in eight innings. He walked two and struck out five.
“What he is doing is getting the ball to both sides of the plate now and you’re starting to see more velocity,” Wedge said. “His effort was beyond the call really today especially in that type of ballgame.”
The Mariners had missed out on an opportunity to take the lead in the fourth inning off Lyles. Nick Franklin hit a one-out double off the wall in right field. Mike Zunino singled sharply to center field for the first hit of his major league career but Franklin was held up at third base. A walk loaded the bases but Brendan Ryan and Alex Liddi both struck out as Lyles worked out of the jam.
“I got to two strikes and I just wanted to have a good at-bat,” Zunino said of his first hit. “I was able to get a breaking ball up — which I didn’t my first at-bat. I was able to hit it up the middle and not do too much with it.”
Notes: Mariners C Mike Zunino made his major league debut just over a year removed from being selected by Seattle in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. Zunino is the third catcher for Seattle to make their major league debut in the last 20 days joining Jesus Sucre and Brandon Bantz. … Lyles is the ninth pitcher to strike out 10-plus Mariners in a game this season. … With two more errors Wednesday night, the Astros increased their league-leading total to 51 for the season. … It was the first win this season for Houston when trailing after eight innings. The Astros were 0-38 when trailing after eight innings entering Wednesday night. … Houston’s six-run ninth inning matched its highest scoring inning of the year. The Astros had scored six runs in the sixth innings against the Colorado Rockies on May 30.
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