Yusei Kikuchi scratched from his start, and Mariners pay a big price as Astros roll 11-1

Ryan Divish, The Seattle Times on

Published in Baseball

Under normal or even the most optimal of circumstances, a bullpen start is not an ideal scenario for any team. Usually it's a last resort when there are no other options.

For the 2020 Seattle Mariners and their collection of inexperienced, inconsistent and ineffective relievers, the premise of a bullpen start for any reason isn't quite like self-immolation, but more like a root canal without being given the option of numbing shots.

Roughly 40 minutes before the first pitch at Minute Maid Park, the Mariners determined that left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who was scheduled to start the series opener against the Houston Astros, would not be able to take the mound for his fourth start of the season because of neck spasms.

That meant a bullpen that came into the game with a 6.78 ERA (second worst in MLB), 17 homers allowed (tied for the most in MLB), 47 walks (tied for second most), 12 hit-batters (most in MLB) and an .860 on-base plus slugging percentage allowed (second worst) would have to cover nine innings against a wounded Houston team that was looking to get healthy against a team it bullied to the point of embarrassment last season.

It went worse than even expected in an 11-1 drubbing of Seattle by Houston. And yet for those who watched the first two innings, the possibility of a worse score seemed plausible.

The Mariners now have lost 22 of their past 24 games to the Astros, including 13 of their past 14 at Minute Maid Park.


Left-hander Nestor Cortes, who has pitched in both roles and made 80 career starts in the minor leagues, was chosen to make his second big league start.

Although it was brief in terms of innings or technically 1/3 of an inning pitched, or outs accumulated, Cortes' outing felt more interminable than pre-COVID Friday traffic on I-5.

Given a 1-0 lead thanks to Kyle Seager's first-inning sac fly, Cortes recorded just one out -- a strike out of the slumping Jose Altuve -- while facing all nine Astros batters in the lineup.

When George Springer hit a flyout to start the bottom of the first, but was awarded first base because of catcher's interference, it was a sign of things to come.


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