SEATTLE — Staring down a star-studded, cash-eating lineup wasn’t the softest of landings for Aaron Harang as he tried to give the Mariners some needed help at the back of their rotation.
One of the sluggers raking in the big bucks for the Detroit Tigers wound up showing Harang and company why by driving in as many runs Tuesday night as the Mariners managed hits. Miguel Cabrera knocked in the first four Tigers runs, two on a fifth-inning homer, to seal a 6-2 loss for the Mariners on a night Harang actually held his own for five innings.
But the way Doug Fister handcuffed his former Mariners team on four hits, the efforts by Harang weren’t nearly enough.
“Once I got out there and got through that first inning, it felt like I was able to get into more of a rhythm,” Harang said. “Obviously, they were fouling off a lot of pitches early, which ended up raising my pitch count pretty quick.”
Harang was pulled after five innings with his pitch count at 95. He had nearly left with the lead, only to see Cabrera take a fastball just off the plate and ram it over the center-field wall to put Detroit ahead to stay.
“He did a great job hitting that pitch,” Harang said. “We went back and looked at it (on video). It was four or five inches off the plate. It should have been a ball. It proves why he’s as good as he is and the fact that he won (AL) MVP last year.”
The crowd of 12,379 at Safeco Field was treated to a vintage display from Cabrera, who drove in the game’s first run on a single after Austin Jackson led the night off with a triple to right-center. In the seventh, after Jackson reached on a single off Blake Beavan, then stole second, Cabrera rammed another hit into left field to give Detroit a 4-2 lead.
The Tigers finally scored without Cabrera’s help in the eighth when Jackson drew a bases-loaded walk off relief pitcher Bobby LaFromboise and then Torii Hunter did the same versus Yoervis Medina, making his big-league debut. Cabrera came up after that looking to add to his totals, but Medina got a called strikeout against his fellow countryman from Venezuela.
On a day the Mariners purchased a controlling interest in their own local television network, the need to spend any newfound wealth that might be generated by the deal on additional roster talent was never more evident. The Mariners were facing a Tigers lineup packed with higher-priced bats like Cabrera and Prince Fielder while Seattle countered with a starting pitcher designated for assignment twice since spring training and a makeshift bullpen sprinkled with minor-league callups.
Harang hadn’t started since late in spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After he was designated for assignment by them, the Rockies picked him up, only to ship him to Seattle late last week for minor-league pitcher Steven Hemsley.
Having never pitched in the American League, Harang lacked familiarity with the Tigers — especially Cabrera and his game-changing abilities.
“I think the biggest thing is we have to really worry about not letting him beat us and making the rest of their team actually beat us,” Harang said.
Fister retired the first 10 batters he faced and struck out six over seven innings, looking every bit the ground-ball machine he’d become when the Mariners traded him to Detroit in July 2011.
“He was pretty much the same,” said Justin Smoak, who went 1 for 2 and drew his team’s only walk of the night against Fister. “He’s got that great angle and sinkers that are down and away ... I thought his changeup was better than I’ve seen him before.
“He was always good when he was here. He goes out there and competes. We got on him there that one inning ... and just couldn’t add on after that.”
The only time the Mariners did damage was in the fourth inning, when Kyle Seager and Kendrys Morales hit consecutive doubles to tie the score at 1.
Michael Morse then put Seattle ahead 2-1 with a single up the middle. Morse and Morales are two of the Mariners’ bigger bats, though both are here on only one-year deals. The hope among fans is that the added revenues from the team’s new television deal could be used to lock up at least one of those players long-term before the season ends.
For now, the Mariners will have to try to figure out what’s at their disposal as the team shakes off early injuries. Mariners manager Eric Wedge said it’s simply a matter of finding some rhythm and consistency in the early going.
“We’ve got to get the offense going and loosen things up a little bit around here,” he said. “They’re grinding, they’re fighting through it.”