January 29, 2023

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Road-weary Mariners 'dragging' in latest loss

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ARLINGTON — When the revised schedule was unveiled after the CBA was agreed to in March, the Mariners knew that the first two months of the season were going to be a gauntlet.

As of Saturday, they’ve had three trips to the East Coast and have covered roughly 22,000 miles, just under the 24,851 that the Reds, who travel the least this year in MLB, will travel all season. Seattle has also had just five off-days to help alleviate the wear and tear for the weary.

No team will publicly make excuses about a matter as intangible as travel, and the Mariners admittedly have plenty to point to for being 23-30 and in fourth place following Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 loss to the Rangers. But it’s hard to completely rule out a correlation between extended time on the team plane and poor play at the plate, which was again the case in a four-hit effort at Globe Life Field, a showing that dropped Seattle to 11-20 on the road.

“You’ve got to come up, figure out a way,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve had some tough travel, it’s been a tough trip. Guys were dragging a little bit today, but we were right there at the end. We just couldn’t get a big hit.”

Jesse Winker crushed a two-run homer off Texas starter Glenn Otto, a 446-foot shot that encapsulated all that the front office adored about the slugger when it acquired him in March. It was his first deep fly against a righty all season. But it also represented the lone run production that the Mariners manufactured, and they had just three other hits.

Three times — in the second, fourth and eighth innings — they stranded Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez, with Adam Frazier and Abraham Toro, who followed in the batting order, each unable to bring them home in those sequences. Overall, Seattle went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven baserunners.

Those collective shortcomings made the three-run homer that Marco Gonzales surrendered to Adolis García in the fourth inning too much to overcome, spoiling another solid start from the veteran.

“We kind of need to recharge the batteries a little bit,” Servais said. “The last couple of days, and typically after a tough travel night, it’s the second day that gets you. A day game today, and we kind of saw that a little bit. But again, it was a winnable game.”

Gonzales completed the seventh inning for the second straight outing and the third time this season, a mark he reached four times last year. His changeup was again superb, sans the one that García connected on, which was at the very bottom of the strike zone and that García’s barrel met way out in front, an impressive display of raw strength that not many have in the Majors.

That fourth-inning homer scored Marcus Semien, who led off with a single through the second-base hole against the shift, and Mitch Garver, who drew Gonzales’ lone walk. In his other six innings, he allowed just three runners to reach, all via singles.

Yet run support came up short, and the Mariners have scored just 11 runs over Gonzales’ six losses this season.

“I made a mistake to Adolis, who unfortunately clipped me with guys on base, and that’s how it goes,” Gonzales said. “But other than that, I thought we really had a good game plan against these guys and executed really well and kept them off basepaths.”

After Saturday, the Mariners are five games into their nine-game road trip that spans three cities, with three wins under their belt. A series at Minute Maid Park, where they are 4-26 since the start of 2019, still looms. Yet all that aside, the travel should alleviate once they make the 4 1/2-hour flight back from Houston and begin their next homestand in Seattle on Friday, which is preceded by an off-day.

The club is already at a disadvantage being so far removed geographically, in the Pacific Northwest, where it has led the Majors in miles in nine of the 13 seasons since 2009, excluding the pandemic-impacted 2020 season when teams traveled only within their region. But with the AL West pairing with the NL East in Interleague Play this year, it’s even more exacerbated.

Beginning Friday, the Mariners won’t leave the Pacific Time Zone until July 12, a streak that will be snapped with a trip to Washington. And after that two-gamer against the Nats, Seattle goes east only once more, for a three-game series at Yankee Stadium from Aug. 1-3. In this upcoming one-month stretch, the Mariners will play 22 of their 30 games at T-Mobile Park, where they are 12-10 this season.

It’s not necessarily a precursor of guaranteed positives on the horizon, but at least one of the most demanding stretches of their six-month season will be behind them.

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