SEATTLE — For all of the Mariners’ inconsistencies at times in this up-and-down season, one constant has regularly put them in position to win every time he takes the field.
Logan Gilbert again dazzled with six shutout innings on Tuesday against the Twins, marching the Mariners to a 5-0 win with some help from a new-look lineup. Aside from the right-hander’s mini funk in mid-May that spanned four starts, the Mariners have won each time he’s taken the hill, for the ninth time this season and fourth in a row in his 13 outings.
Moreover, Gilbert has led the Mariners to a win four times on starts following a loss, including an end to two four-game losing streaks. At this rate, the second-year starter is putting together a legitimate bid to pitch in the Midsummer Classic next month at Dodger Stadium.
“It looks to me like maybe an All-Star-type season,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I think he’s certainly distinguishing himself as one of the better starters in this league, and he was just awesome again tonight.”
From the get-go, Gilbert looked electric. In the first inning, he induced a weak groundout from leadoff man Luis Arraez, blew a 97.2 mph fastball by Byron Buxton for strike three then worked his way back from a 3-0 count to fan Carlos Correa on three straight pitches, all looking and all via the heater.
Gilbert again faced a 3-0 count against what wound up being his final batter of the game, coming back to punch out Max Kepler on three straight fastballs then slamming his fist into his glove as he walked off the mound.
With a four-run lead after six innings, and with Seattle’s best leverage relievers each on more than one day’s rest, Servais opted to use his bullpen for the final three frames despite Gilbert being at just 90 pitches, which was by design after the 25-year-old threw 100-plus in each of his five prior starts. So, Erik Swanson, Diego Castillo and Matthew Festa pushed Seattle to the finish line.
“I know that regardless if we win or lose, I’m trying to always set the tone when it’s my day and get ahead and keep zeros on the board and give us a chance to win,” Gilbert said. “Win or lose, that’s my job, and that’s what I’ve tried to go out and do.”
Despite generating just nine swings-and-misses, Gilbert carved his way through one of the AL’s best contact-making teams by attacking early in counts. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 22 batters he faced, and only twice did Minnesota reach scoring position against him.
“His fastball has some good carry and it was up to 98, 99 [mph], I think,” Correa said. “He threw a lot of fastballs today, too, and it was kind of hard to catch up to them. So, yeah, it was just a tough night at the office.”
Another big factor in Gilbert’s success was that he wasn’t forced to pitch his team back into the ballgame. Each of the Mariners’ first 11 hitters against Twins starter Joe Ryan were hitless, but Seattle got to him in the fourth when Julio Rodríguez yanked a double into left field then Eugenio Suárez drove the rookie in with a two-run homer. Then in the fifth, Ty France padded Seattle’s lead with another two-run homer, his 10th of the year driving in Dylan Moore, who led off with a single and stole second base.
Moore, playing shortstop after J.P. Crawford was a late scratch, punctuated the win by scoring an insurance run in the seventh, hitting another leadoff single, stealing another base and scoring on an RBI double by Sam Haggerty, who was a late addition to the lineup with Crawford shelved due to flu-like symptoms and Jesse Winker out for a scheduled day off amid his ongoing struggles.
“Putting up a five-spot — if we do that, our pitchers are really good,” France said. “They’re going to go out and handle business, so it’s nice to do that.”
Gilbert struck out six to reach 200 K’s in his 37th career start in the process, becoming the third fastest Mariners pitcher to reach that milestone, trailing Mark Langston in 1984 and Félix Hernández in 2005-06, both of whom got there in 35 starts.
Gilbert has been a huge lifeline when they’ve needed him most. The Mariners are 9-4 with him on the mound, and they probably could be even better, with ninth-inning leads blown by the bullpen in his May 6 outing vs. Tampa Bay and on May 22 at Boston. Seattle is 19-30 behind everyone else.
“Our team knows when he’s pitching,” Servais said. “You’ve got a pitcher that’s been that consistent. You’ve got to figure out a way to play good defense behind him, which we did tonight, and score a couple of runs and we should be in good shape.”