ARLINGTON -- There should be an asterisk next to this one, given that they just faced last year's top three strikeout pitchers in the American League. But Mariners hitters are on a record pace for strikeouts after 18 games and were set down at an historic rate over the three previous games heading into Saturday's contest with the Rangers.
The Mariners struck out 44 times over 32 innings in three games from Wednesday through Friday, including 19 in a 14-inning loss to Detroit on Thursday. Not coincidentally, they faced the Tigers' Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and Rangers ace Yu Darvish in those three outings, and that trio were the top three AL pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings in 2012.
Scherzer and Verlander both racked up 12 strikeouts and Darvish had 10 in his seven innings on Friday, marking the first time in Mariners history they've struck out 10 or more times against an opposing starter in three straight games.
That run certainly skews their early numbers, but manager Eric Wedge isn't thrilled to see his club second to only the struggling Astros in strikeouts in the American League and on pace for 1,332 for the year, which would break the franchise record of 1,280, set in 2011.
"We have faced good pitchers, but we're a lot better than that," Wedge said. "The one thing is, we have to do better with two strikes. There's certain things we need to do better prior to that to create damage, but speaking to the strikeouts, we just need to do a better job with two strikes. We're capable and we should be better than that."
The key, in Wedge's mind?
"Just protecting the plate and being disciplined at the same time," he said. "That's why it's so difficult to hit. You're up there not to take strike three, but you're up there not to chase, too. So it's just having better discipline and pitch recognition."
Slugger Michael Morse leads the Mariners with 17 strikeouts in 57 at-bats, but it's been a team-wide trend as 10 different players have at least 10 K's. Catcher Kelly Shoppach leads the club with his .333 batting average in limited duty, but he also has the highest strikeout rate with 10 in 24 at-bats.
"It's a battle," third baseman Kyle Seager said of the necessary two-strike approach. "You get in there with two strikes, you really have to dig in and battle and fight. That's basically what it comes down to. Sometimes you can be in there fighting and they surprise you with a pitch, but for the most part, you've got to do whatever you can to get the ball in play."
Noesi hopes solid outing is start of something
ARLINGTON -- Hector Noesi had some well-documented struggles as a starter last year for the Mariners, but the 26-year-old right-hander has pitched well in limited bullpen duties and he came through in that role again Friday in his season debut.
Noesi, just recalled from Triple-A Tacoma a day earlier, shut out the Rangers for 3 1/3 innings on one hit in the Mariners' 7-0 loss. He was 2-12 with a 6.24 ERA in 18 starts for Seattle last year, but now has an 0.75 ERA in five relief appearances, allowing with just one run and six hits over 12 innings.
The Dominican native hasn't given up on a rotation role, however.
"It's on me," Noesi said before Saturday's game. "I'd love to be a starter. I can be a starter the way I am right now. Don't think too much and just throw my pitches where they want me to throw them."
Noesi spent a year in the Yankees bullpen before being acquired by Seattle in the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade and his career relief numbers are 2-1 with a 3.39 ERA in 63 2/3 innings.
After Noesi struggled again this spring, he was sent to Double-A Jackson and didn't allow a run in his first two starts. He had just been promoted to Tacoma last week, but got the call to Seattle before ever pitching with the Rainiers when the Mariners ran into an arms shortage in their bullpen.
The demotion to Jackson was a wake-up call.
"They just said, 'Go down to Double-A and try to believe in your stuff again.' So that's what I did," Noesi said. "It was a surprise for me. It was a hard moment. But I have to take whatever happens. Anyway, it's a job. If you don't take care of your business, they're going to send you down."
Friday's strong outing reaffirmed that the youngster might be more suited for bullpen duty, however.
"It's something we've talked about," said manager Eric Wedge. "We've seen him good up here a few times in that role. You always want to exhaust young pitchers that have the ability to start and give them every opportunity to do that. We've been doing that. But hey, he's up here now in the bullpen role and we'll see what happens."
Gutierrez returns to Mariners lineup
ARLINGTON - After starting just two of the previous seven games due to soreness in his legs, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez was back in the Mariners lineup for Saturday night's game with the Rangers.
Gutierrez has played well when he's been able to get on the field, hitting .255 with four home runs and a share of the team lead with 10 RBIs. His .574 slugging percentage is second only to the .579 by Michael Morse going into Saturday's action.
But health has been an issue for the 2010 Gold Glove outfielder for the past 2 1/2 seasons, and his latest difficulty is the leg problems that cropped up in Spring Training and continue to flare.
"He said he feels pretty good, so we got him back in there and we'll see how it goes," said manager Eric Wedge. "Hopefully he'll have a good day."
As for the longer term?
"We do have to just take it game by game right now and try to get him over the hump," Wedge said. "He's working on his lower half every day and trying to get better with it, but it is what it is."
Michael Saunders is getting closer to returning, which would give Wedge another center-field option. Saunders took another step Saturday by taking full batting practice, after doing some early hitting Friday. He said he remains hopeful to come off the disabled list when he's eligible to return next Friday.
• When the Mariners were shut out 7-0 on Friday, it ended a string of 48 straight games in which they had scored at least one run, the 15th-longest streak in club history. It was their longest non-shutout stretch since a 58-game span in 2007.
• Seager led the Majors with nine doubles going into Saturday and that total is already tied for the sixth-most in franchise history for the month of April. No Mariner had hit nine doubles in April since John Olerud had 11 in 2003. Edgar Martinez holds the franchise's April record with 12.
• Top lefty pitching prospect Danny Hultzen picked up his third win of the season on Friday for Tacoma with six innings of three-hit ball, allowing two runs in a 4-2 win over Fresno. Hultzen is 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA.
Catcher Mike Zunino has cooled off for the Rainiers, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Friday. He finished up the homestand going hitless in 20 at-bats, as his batting average fell to .217 after a hot start.