SEATTLE – As Justin Dunn handed him the baseball, looking to escape the mound and start the process of trying to forget a debut that had gone so very wrong, manager Scott Servais wouldn’t let his rookie pitcher exit in a hurry.
Servais put his hand on Dunn’s shoulder, making sure their eyes were locked as he spoke to him.
The manager was going to make sure that Dunn knew that this single moment wouldn’t define him as a pitcher, regardless of the results – five walks and two runs allowed.
When the final out of the interminable top of the first was registered on just one pitch from Zac Grotz, Dunn walked from the far end of the dugout toward the clubhouse to begin his post-outing routine.
But his path was slowed and impeded by almost every one of his teammates stopping, patting him on the shoulder or offering words of encouragement and optimism. They knew what he was feeling because they’d felt it before. And they weren’t going to let him feel for one second that he was alone. This is baseball. It’s difficult. And it will spare no shortage of reminders.
It didn’t take long for the Mariners to pick up Dunn, erasing his deficit and taking him off the hook for the loss. And Kyle Lewis, his Double-A Arkansas teammate, who was called up Tuesday with him and two others, made sure that Dunn’s struggles were easily forgotten by earning a piece of Major League Baseball history.
And, well, the bullpen was largely at fault for the Mariners’ 11-5 loss to the Reds. A five-run seventh inning that included a grand slam from Freddy Galvis off Dan Altavilla and a two-run homer in the eighth off Matt Wisler turned a 5-3 lead into a loss.
With Lewis’ fifth-inning home run off of Lucas Sims – another towering blast off a 94 mph fastball that smacked the electronic scoreboard behind the Mariners’ bullpen – Lewis became the second player to homer in each of the first three games of his MLB career. Rockies shortstop Trevor Story accomplished the feat in 2016.
MLB Statcast measured the distance of Lewis’ homer at 457 feet with a 109 mph exit velocity.
The homer was Lewis’ third hit of the night. He lashed a double to right-center in his first at-bat off a curveball from starter Tyler Mahle. In his second at-bat, he lined a first-pitch curveball to right field for a single. It’s notable that Lewis registered those two hits off of breaking balls. All of his homers have come on fastballs, and there is an expectation that teams will try to feed him a steady diet of breaking pitches in the near future.
Lewis’ start to his MLB career has exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. And that’s not a bad thing for an organization and fan base that are starved to see glimpses of hope for a rebuild plan that is still in its infancy.
As for Dunn’s debut, it was obvious that the 23-year-old was a little nervous. He walked the first batter he faced, Josh Van Meter, on four pitches. Perspiration dripped from his face, and he was breathing quickly. He could never seem to slow everything down. He wanted to work with a quick pace and rhythm, but it leaked into his mechanics. His fastball was in spray mode, which was atypical.
As he struggled to throw a strike, Dunn also lost his focus to other aspects, including the run game. Van Meter stole second with ease. After walking Joey Votto on six pitches, Van Meter stole third, and Votto later stole second.
A third walk to Eugenio Suarez loaded the bases and brought Aristedes Aquino to the plate. Dunn avoided major damage, getting him to fly out to center for a sacrifice fly. A walk to Galvis to reload the bases and a sac fly from Phillip Ervin made it 2-0. But Dunn couldn’t get that third out. He walked Brian O’Grady and was lifted having thrown 37 pitches with just 14 strikes.
The Mariners took him off the hook for the loss in the bottom of the second. After Lewis’ double, Dylan Moore hit his ninth homer – a two-run shot to left – tying the game at 2.
Seattle pushed the lead to 4-2 in the third when Omar Narvaez became the fifth Mariner to reach the 20-homer mark, sending an opposite-field, two-run homer to deep left-center.
Lewis’ homer pushed the lead to 5-3.
Tommy Milone entered in the third, pitching three scoreless innings before it fell apart in the seventh. He allowed three straight singles to load the bases and earn an exit. Altavilla entered and allowed a rocket of an RBI double to Eugenio Suarez, walked a batter to reload the bases and then misplaced a slider that Galvis turned into a grand slam. Meanwhile Wisler gave up a two-run homer in the eighth.
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