In the news:
Mariners caught up in vicious cycle in loss to Arizona
While the Diamondbacks' Aaron Hill hits for the cycle, Mariners starter Hector Noesi struggles again in 0-2 counts in 7-1 loss.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mariners @ Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m., ROOT
PHOENIX — Monday's game was over well before Aaron Hill added insult to Mariners injury by becoming the first player in 11 years to hit for the cycle against them.
One can argue the result was sealed three batters into the contest after Mariners starting pitcher Hector Noesi failed to put hitters away with two strikes in the count. That led to three first-inning runs by the Arizona Diamondbacks and a 7-1 loss for the Mariners on a night Noesi again tested the patience of his coaching staff by not doing the basics expected of any major-league starter.
"With 0-2 counts, I threw too many bad pitches," Noesi said. "It was in the middle and they were hitting them."
Hill hit one of them for a single to put two runners on. The next batter, Justin Upton, reached out and pulled a poorly executed, 0-2 slider into left field for a single that opened the scoring.
Noesi would leave the game down 6-1 after six innings. Hill then stepped up in the seventh against Shawn Kelley and delighted the crowd of 24,284 at Chase Field by ripping a ball into the left-field seats. After a triple in the third and a double in the fifth, that capped the first cycle against Seattle since Oakland's Miguel Tejada had one back in September 2001.
The Mariners came into the game with a new look atop the order in Michael Saunders, while Ichiro had the night off. Saunders went hitless at leadoff, but Ichiro's replacement in right field, Casper Wells, did have a pair of hits, including a double in the sixth inning that scored his team's only run.
But it wasn't anywhere near enough.
Diamondbacks starter Wade Miley did allow nine hits over seven innings, but also notched eight strikeouts and allowed just two extra-base hits to limit the damage.
Noesi has been battling 0-2 demons all season long. Entering the game, hitters were 9 for 32 (.281) off him with four home runs, three doubles and a 1.031 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 0-2 situations.
The message being drilled into him daily by coaches and catchers has been the same: Bury your 0-2 stuff in the dirt, or at least keep it outside the strike zone.
Noesi said after this game that he has gotten the message. "I tried to put it in the dirt," he said.
But it just wasn't ending up there. Truth be told, the problem with the pitch to Upton wasn't so much the location, but the lack of a proper finish to the slider Noesi threw.
The ball wound up on the outside corner and down, but its movement was slow enough that the pitch hung up just enough for Upton to hit it.
"He just wasn't as aggressive with it so it didn't have the same bite on it," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Noesi's pitch. "It was down and away, but it didn't have the same life that he normally has when he makes the finish on his pitches. A good hitter is able to slow himself down, go out there and hook it."
And that's been the problem with Noesi. Even he admits that it's not so much a "mechanical" issue as it is an "emotional" — or mental — one in not putting enough of himself behind each pitch in key situations.
And if there's one thing that drives coaches crazy, it's mental mistakes that lead to losses.
Noesi's problems weren't just on 0-2 counts. He left too many balls up, leading to four extra-base hits against him as well as four sacrifice flies, two of them coming right after Upton's run-scoring single in the first.
Willie Bloomquist had gone sprinting around third on the play and wound up barreling over catcher Jesus Montero to score the game's first run. The ball got away from Montero, allowing both runners to move up an extra base.
Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt then hit some very deep sacrifice flies to right and left field. Hill helped make it a 4-0 game in the third with a triple to the deepest part of the ballpark in right-center. He later scored on another very deep sac fly by Upton.
"Their hitters did a nice job," Wedge said. "But when you elevate (pitches), you're doing half the work for them."
The Mariners seem prepared to work with Noesi for now rather than relegate him to Class AAA like they did Blake Beavan. Unlike in Beavan's case, when Erasmo Ramirez was called up to replace him, there is no AAA starter the team thinks is ready to step into Noesi's spot just yet.
Wedge and the Mariners like some of the stuff Noesi has shown to date, including seven innings of one-run ball against the Padres last week in which he eliminated his 0-2 issues. But there's the lingering matter of his 5.69 earned-run average, which won't improve until he can consistently stop throwing 0-2 meatballs and pitches up in the zone.
"I'm trying to do my best," Noesi said. "But I have to stop doing that, being good and then bad. I have to be consistent."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @gbakermariners