Left-hander Robbie Ray will take aim at his fifth career 200-strikeout season when he attempts to get the Seattle Mariners back on the right track at the expense of the host Oakland Athletics on Wednesday night.
Oakland’s JP Sears limited the Mariners (81-66) to one hit and one unearned run over five innings, and four relievers threw hitless, scoreless ball the rest of the way, as the A’s (54-94) dealt the Mariners a costly 4-1 defeat in their playoff pursuit in the series opener.
When a win would have allowed Seattle to move into the second American League wild-card position, Tuesday’s defeat prevented the Mariners from further distancing themselves from the pursuing Baltimore Orioles, who will begin play Wednesday five back.
The Mariners hope Ray (12-10, 3.72) can turn things around both for the team and for himself. He hasn’t seen the sixth inning in either of his past two starts, roughed up for a total of nine runs and 16 hits in 10 innings by the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels.
The 30-year-old managed 11 strikeouts in those games, bringing his season total to 194. Six more and Ray would join Max Scherzer as the only pitchers to record 200 or more strikeouts five times in the past seven seasons.
The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner has gone 1-1 in three starts against the A’s this season, striking out 28 in 18 2/3 innings while allowing just five runs. He has started five times in his career against Oakland, going 2-1 with a 2.30 ERA.
Ray has never gone head-to-head with Tony Kemp, a left-handed hitter whose three-run home run allowed the A’s to overtake the Mariners in the fifth inning on Tuesday.
The A’s are out of the playoff race, but Kemp and Seth Brown are racing each other for Best Month of September honors. Kemp’s 2-for-4 effort Tuesday raised his average this month to .321 with three homers and 12 RBIs. After going 0-for-3, Brown is at .283 with six homers and 12 RBIs.
“We have a friendly competition going on,” Kemp admitted. “We look at each other and say, ‘Hey, don’t wait up for me today.’ If he gets a hit, I want to get a hit. We feed off each other. He has a lot more homers than me, but I’m just trying to keep up.”
While Kemp was providing the big blow of the game out of the Oakland leadoff spot Tuesday, Mariners leadoff hitter Julio Rodriguez struggled in his return from a sore back. He went 0-for-4, including a flyout with the bases loaded and a double play grounder.
Seattle fell to 13-28 on the season when it hasn’t homered.
“The way the game is today, you need to hit homers,” Mariners manager Scott Servais insisted. “It’s really hard to win when you don’t. It’s hard to put four or five hits together in an inning.”
Seattle will try to resume its long-ball display at the expense of A’s right-hander James Kaprielian (3-9, 4.70), who is winless in last six starts, going 0-4 with a 5.76 ERA. He pitched well in his last outing, limiting the Houston Astros to two runs and five hits over six innings in a 5-2 road defeat.
The 28-year-old will be making his fifth start of the season against the Mariners, with the A’s having won three of the first four. He’s gone 2-1 with a 5.17 ERA in nine career head-to-heads with Seattle, including six starts.
Rodriguez has owned his head-to-head with Kaprielian, going 6-for-12 with two triples and a homer.