CHICAGO — The Mariners’ pitching bent and bent and finally broke Monday, allowing five runs in the seventh inning and losing 5-1 to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
The late offensive explosion from the Cubs spoiled a quality start from Mariners starter Justus Sheffield, who struck out seven over five innings of work — both career highs for the 23 year old pitcher who’s a major part of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s “step-back” plan. The Mariners fell to 58-81 on the season with the loss.
Sheffield allowed batters to reach scoring position in each of the five innings he pitched but escaped cleanly each time. Seattle relievers Matt Wisler and rookie Taylor Guilbeau couldn’t hold the gates, however, allowing five runs in the bottom of the seventh.
The biggest back-breaker came with one out in the seventh, when Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber hit a freak, bases-loaded triple that bounced off first base and landed lazily in shallow right field, giving the Cubs a 5-1 lead they held to the end.
The Mariners offense offered minimal support, eking out just one run in the top of the fifth off back-to-back doubles from shortstop Dylan Moore and second baseman Dee Gordon, making it 1-0 until the Mariners bullpen caved.
Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters before the game it was important for the Mariners’ younger players, including Sheffield, to get experience over the final month of the season, with the team sitting in last place in the American League West.
Sheffield kept the Cubs at bay throughout his third career start Monday, including what looked to be a key moment in the bottom of the fifth when he struck out Schwarber looking with runners on first and second. The left-hander didn’t allow a run on 91 pitches, despite allowing seven Cubs to reach scoring position in the first five innings.
Servais knew Monday would be a big test for Sheffield, who kept his calm in the face of high-pressure situations early on.
“It really is the test, getting out there, using all your pitches and keeping your emotions in check,” Servais told reporters before the game. “He’s got a lot of upside and we really like the player. We’ve just got to be patient.”
The Mariners wrap up their four-game season series with the Cubs on Tuesday night.
Mariners catcher Omar Narvaez did not start Monday after waking up with back spasms. Servais said before the game Narvaez was a late scratch but did not rule out Narvaez possibly making a late-game pinch-hit appearance, though that never happened. Narvaez leads the Mariners with a .282 batting average this season and has a career-high 19 home runs in 112 games. “Hopefully he’ll be available (Tuesday),” Servais said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”