SEATTLE — There are always firsts in baseball, no matter how long a career, but Kyle Gibson would have gladly gone another 292 games without reaching a new benchmark in Friday’s blowout loss to the Seattle Mariners.
It was apparent from the outset, when Julio Rodríguez lashed a would-be extra-base hit had Cedric Mullins — freshly off the injured list — not crashed into the center field fence to make the catch. It was especially apparent in a fourth inning that included an opposite-field, three-run homer from Rodríguez that pushed the series opener out of the Orioles’ reach.
And it was all too apparent when Gibson left the mound after the worst start of his career — in all his 292 games, never before had he allowed nine runs. Until Friday’s 9-2 loss to the Mariners.
“This was probably about as bad as I’ve executed pitches in a long time,” Gibson said. “In general, just didn’t do very much well. Didn’t make pitches when I needed to. Didn’t limit damage. Didn’t execute some sliders in instances when I needed to. And they had a good plan and I didn’t execute my plan. Unfortunately, for five straight innings, that’s what happened.”
There’s never a good time for a start to go sideways from the beginning, but at the start of a three-city West Coast road trip, this was worse timing than most. After Seattle, Baltimore faces the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics. It’s a test of endurance, mostly, handling long travel days, and Gibson’s main disappointment was not starting the trip right.
Still, by pitching into the sixth, he allowed manager Brandon Hyde to stay away from several relievers who have carried heavy loads lately.
“Normally, you can have some sort of silver lining that you can look at, but tonight was just a frustrating start,” Gibson said. “First game on a long road trip, on an important road trip for us, and I didn’t even give the team a chance to win or be competitive tonight.”
Gibson’s start unraveled in a five-run fourth inning punctuated by Rodríguez’s homer that just sneaked over the right field fence, but the 35-year-old Gibson wasn’t at his best throughout.
Already leading the majors in hits allowed, Gibson permitted 12 more in 5 1/3 innings. Combined with his previous start this season against the Mariners, Gibson has allowed 19 hits and 14 runs in 8 1/3 innings.
They hit his cutter and sweeper especially hard, and even as he managed whiffs on 23% of his offerings, Seattle produced an exit velocity of 100 mph or faster nine times. The Mariners added another three balls with an exit velocity of at least 99 mph. They soared around T-Mobile Park — and then outside it.
“He left too many balls in the middle part of the plate, it looked like,” Hyde said. “Got some balls elevated in the middle, and they were really aggressive tonight on him. He was throwing a ton of strikes, just maybe some missed locations, and they got the barrel to the baseball.”
Catcher Cal Raleigh continued a hard-hitting first inning with a two-run blast that left his bat at 112.6 mph, and while Gibson put up zeroes in the second and third, the fourth inning proved to be a collapse.
Anthony Santander had just hit a solo shot for Baltimore’s lone run until a ninth-inning RBI double from Jordan Westburg, cutting the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth, before the Mariners answered with a sacrifice fly, RBI single and three-run shot. Gibson also allowed a solo shot to Ty France in the fifth, and Rodríguez drove in the ninth run in the sixth with a double.
There was little offensive production from the Orioles, with just two hits against right-hander Luis Castillo in six innings.
“That’s a playoff pitcher,” Hyde said. “That’s what it looks like in the postseason.”
Gibson has been a reliable — if not standout — arm for much of this season, but his ERA has crept higher since June. Among Baltimore’s new six-man rotation, his 5.86 ERA in 13 starts is the highest, although Friday broke a string of four straight quality starts.
It’s just one game, the first of a long road trip, against a team that has won eight straight games. But it was an inauspicious start to a three-city swing for the American League’s top team.