SEATTLE — It only took 12 pitches into Friday night’s game at T-Mobile Park for the Mariners to bring an end to Astros starter Justin Verlander’s 19-inning scoreless streak, when Julio Rodríguez clubbed a two-run homer. That was just the start of a long night at the ballpark for the Astros ace pitcher, who had been nearly untouchable this year.
Verlander had been so dominant in his first eight starts — he entered Friday leading the Majors in ERA (1.22), WHIP (0.72) and opponents’ average (.161) — that watching him get roughed up was startling. The Mariners tagged him for a career-high-tying four homers in the 6-1 win over the Astros.
“It can happen to the best of them, and he’s one of the best,” manager Dusty Baker said. “They were swinging it tonight. They weren’t missing pitches. It was their night. You’ve just got to chalk it up to a bad night.”
Verlander (6-2) said he was susceptible to contact because of control issues, which may have also stemmed from not being able to grip the ball very well on a chilly night. He wound up throwing 99 pitches (68 strikes) in six innings, allowing six runs on 10 hits and one walk. When he left the mound after throwing his final pitch — a 97.7 mph fastball that Rodríguez swung through for one of his six strikeouts — Verlander’s ERA had risen to 2.03.
“It would have been nice to get in a rhythm, but I never felt like I did,” Verlander explained. “A lot of credit to those guys. They had a good game plan and kind of kept me off balance all night and was never able to get into a good rhythm. I had one kind of quick inning [in the third], but other than that it was a bit of a struggle.”
Three of the four hardest-hit balls of the game came on homers he allowed to Kyle Lewis (107.8 mph exit velocity) and Ty France (106.6) in the first inning and Taylor Trammell in the sixth (104.8 mph).
“I made a lot of pretty hittable pitches and just need to execute a little bit better,” Verlander said.
Verlander had allowed four homers in a game three times previously, including once in a Houston uniform. That came on July 15, 2018, against his former team, the Tigers. The six earned runs he allowed tied for the most he’s given up since joining the Astros. He gave up six in two innings against Seattle on Aug. 9, 2018.
“A guy like that, you don’t get many opportunities, man,” Lewis said. “We’ve faced him enough times to know that runs are hard to come by, so we were just trying to be as aggressive as possible. That’s one thing we preached in the pregame and tried to really go out and execute. It was actually a good job of seeing the pregame transitioning to the game execution.”
The Mariners became the first team since 2014 to score four runs off Verlander in the first inning of a game when Rodriguez homered on the first pitch he saw, a two-run blast to right field. Verlander issued a four-pitch walk to J.P. Crawford, and Lewis took him deep one out later for another two-run homer — also on the first pitch. France homered to start the third inning, and Trammell hit a first-pitch homer to lead off the sixth.
“The first home run was a pretty good pitch,” Baker said. “The ball’s up and in and he fought it off and he’s a strong young man. He hung a couple of sliders. He just didn’t have his slider working today. He’d throw some good ones and some others ones… I don’t know if he had a good feel for the ball tonight. Some nights you just don’t have it.”
Verlander said he’ll use Friday’s outing as a chance to improve and get better. Flushing it and forgetting it would be the easy thing to do, but Verlander will dissect every pitch and figure out how to get himself back on track when he starts next week in Oakland.
“I think you learn from it,” Verlander said. “Just kind of like everything else in life, negative things happen. Bad things happen, but if you don’t learn from them and grow from them, then what’s the point of them happening in the first place? I’m not going to say back to the drawing board, but tomorrow I’m going to come in and understand that I’ve got a lot of work to do and get to it.”