Aaron Harang had a 1-2-3 opening inning Wednesday night in the Mariners’ 8-3 win over Baltimore. That in itself would be a mild triumph after his three difficult starts since joining the club.
But, Harang zipped through three more innings before grappling with the Orioles’ lineup in the sixth. He had a final showdown with Chris Davis and his nine home runs, in which Harang was able to strike Davis out.
So, Harang gets his first win with the Mariners after six innings, two earned and five strikeouts. Seattle had 32 hits to take the series from Baltimore. The Mariners were 5-2 on the homestand.
That’s a decided shift from the prior road trip. Joe “Safeco” Saunders had a complete game Monday after imploding on the road. Harang had by far his best outing since joining the club. Mixed in with the homefield uptick was another record-low attendance number at the home park on Monday.
Harang said he watched video and used basic drills to try and get his act together. He used the towel drill — just working on mechanics and follow-through by snapping a towel during his pitching motion — and worked to keep his front side closed longer. The sabermetricians will cringe, but Harang getting settled in a new town, finding somewhere to live, getting unpacked and putting his life in order is not to be overlooked.
“He was due with his track record,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.
Pitching coach Carl Willis also called other pitching coaches who had Harang in the past. The 34-year-old right-hander said he never had a feeling from manager Eric Wedge or Willis that his rotation spot was in jeopardy.
“They’ve seen me pitch,” Harang said. “I faced them a number of times when they were in Cleveland. They knew what to expect from me. They were trying to figure out what was going. They knew the last couple starts weren’t typical of how I pitch.
“I don’t think they were really worrying … at least they weren’t letting on that (they were).”
The Mariners had good offensive news to supplement at least a one-night improvement from Harang. Michael Saunders and Kendrys Morales were each 3-for-5. Michael Morse hit a line-drive opposite-field home run in Safeco. That’s rare. The Mariners handled Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen, who came in with a 2.53 ERA. So, this wasn’t beating up someone struggling. Chen lasted just four innings, his shortest outing of the season.
“When we came home, we knew we were going to head in a better direction,” Wedge said. “I think we started to head in the right direction offensively in Houston a little bit. It just wasn’t translating at that time.
“What you’re seeing now is more the norm in regard to what our guys are capable of.”
Morse is tied for the AL lead in home runs with nine. His pinky issues seem to be dissipating.
Saunders stole a base, hit a line drive for a hit, bunted for a hit and made a running catch in center. He showed a lot of tools and provides definite juice at the top of the lineup.
Justin Smoak doubled and walked twice. In the six games he played during the seven-game homestand, Smoak reached base 10 times in 25 plate appearances, good for a .400 OBP.
And, I was there and saw it with my own eyes, Jesus Montero tripled. It took the expected combination of a deep shot and the person attempting to field the ball to become incapacitated in order for it to happen, but those things happened, which resulted in Montero tip-toeing it to third.
Lastly, Tom Wilhelmsen. No save for the closer, but he lowered his ERA to 0.69 with an 1-2-3 ninth. Opponents are hitting .093 against him. He struck out Matt Wieters to open the ninth with a curveball so filthy it would make Larry Flynt blush. Wilhelmsen said it was his best of the year. He also continues to lightly mix in a changeup, which he began working on in spring training. He holds it similar to Felix Hernandez’s change and has sought and taken a lot of advice from Hernandez about the pitch.