The Mariners lost this game in the first inning, and that’s most of what there is to it. Working with a rotation of just four healthy starting pitchers, the Seattle Mariners rolled with another semi-bullpen game, albeit twisting the concept by utilizing righty reliever Keynan Middleton as the opener, hoping he could work through the most threatening part of the Colorado Rockies lineup in the first. The concept of “the opener” is a reasonable one in this regard, with an unproven and possibly overmatched “bulk” pitcher in rookie Darren McCaughan, making his major league debut, Middleton was asked to prime the pump by starting McCaughan on an easier stage.
Oh the best laid plans of mice and men.
Middleton got shellacked, struggling with his command in the thin, hazy Denver air. He allowed a blooper, three line drives for singles, a walk and a couple runs before a two-out double cleared the bases and pushed things from mess to disaster. Asking relievers to step outside their routines is a challenge, but things couldn’t have gone much worse, unfortunately, and Middleton’s descent from possible M’s All-Star representative to demotee and struggling middle reliever has been a disappointing subplot to Seattle’s solid stretch of play lately.
In a 5-0 hole through one, Seattle did put together a couple brief glimpses of rally. Three solo homers were the club’s only scoring plays, courtesy of Kyle Seager, Luis Torrens, and Mitch Haniger. A few other baserunners reached, but a number of lasers found gloves, including a pair of rockets from Jarred Kelenic at 106 and 99 mph off the bat. The dubious conclusion to the matchup was a Torrens strikeout in which he swung just once and not a single pitch was in the strike zone, which summarized things on Seattle’s offensive day as well as any collection of words I could craft.
Today’s brightest spot was clearly the big league debut for McCaughan, who was everything Seattle could have asked him to be and more. He spun five hitless innings from the 2nd through the 6th, allowing a single run courtesy of three walks, despite recording not a single strikeout. The ghost* of Denny Stark is rattling its chains, wailing for such a fortuitous outing at Coors Field, but few have ever been so effective, fortunate, or whatever combination of the two McCaughan may merit credit for.
Darren McCaughan is the 7th player in MLB history (since 1901) to throw 5.0+ hitless innings in his Major League debut.
— Mariners PR (@MarinersPR) July 21, 2021
It’s a shame to lose such a winnable game, and Seattle’s next five days frankly demand a solution to the rotation, whether McCaughan has earned another go or not. Throwing the 25 year old former 12th round pick to the wolves by starting him against the Astros seems cruel and unlikely to augur success, but any alternate solutions would be external. Congratulations to Darren on a lovely outing, and while a 6-3 loss is not the most satisfying, the M’s return home with a four-game set against the Athletics that will likely matter more than any outcome they could’ve mustered today.
*To my knowledge and hopes, Denny Stark is alive and well.