SEATTLE — — While Robbie Ray was once again dominant against a potential playoff foe, there was a bigger development for the Seattle Mariners on Sunday.
Perhaps All-Star Ty France is about to snap out of his prolonged slump and rediscover the swing that made him one of the best hitters in the American League during the first half of the season.
“We need to get Ty France’s bat back and he showed up today,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I’m very excited about that.”
Ray pitched seven commanding innings, Dylan Moore and France homered and the Mariners beat the Cleveland Guardians 4-0 on Sunday.
Seattle took three of four from Cleveland in a potential postseason lead. All four games were tight and well pitched, and the Mariners squeezed the offense enough to earn a series win.
The teams will repeat it with a three-game set in Cleveland next weekend and perhaps again in October.
“We knew their games were going to be tight. We needed to play good defense and shoot well and we exceeded my expectations in terms of shooting,” Servais said. “That’s the best you can throw.”
The Guardians’ lead in the AL Central was cut to two games over Minnesota, which completed a home sweep against San Francisco. Cleveland manager Terry Francona praised the performance of Ray and the entire Seattle staff.
“Your entire staff is awesome. I mean, you have a lot of work to do,” Francona said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t win, but you have a lot of work to do.”
Ray, winner of last year’s American League Cy Young Award with Toronto, continued his August streak by winning his third straight start.
But Seattle’s offense has been thin of late in part because of France’s slump. He started the day hitting just .122 in August and was riding a 21-0 slump when he singled in the fifth off Cleveland starter Aaron Civale.
France returned two innings later and hit the second pitch of the seventh inning to left field for his 15th home run of the season.
“After the first hit, I definitely felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” France said. “This whole series I felt like I was seeing the ball well, I put a couple of good swings on the balls and it was nice today.”
Ray (11-8) scattered three hits, struck out seven and didn’t walk. During the month, he allowed six earned runs and struck out 41 in 33 innings. He pitched at least six innings in those five starts and gave up two earned runs or fewer in each.
The southpaw escaped the only jam he faced. Andrés Giménez doubled and Austin Hedges followed with a bloop single to lead off the sixth. With runners on the corners and no outs, Ray took a fly ball from Myles Straw that didn’t go deep enough for Gimenez to score, an infield popup from Steven Kwan and then struck out Amed Rosario for the third time to end the threat.
Cleveland was shut out for the eighth time this season, while Seattle recorded its seventh shutout. During the Mariners’ six-game homestand, their starting pitchers went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. They had four walks and 39 strikeouts in 39 innings.
“Putting down zeros is the name of the game,” Ray said. “I feel like we’ve been doing a really good job of feeding off each other’s energy in our bullpen sessions and in the game. We have a very good group.”
Moore opened the game for Seattle with a two-out, three-run homer in the sixth off Civale. France hit a solo shot on the second pitch of the seventh.
Seattle also got a break just before Moore’s long pass. Moore fouled out on a 2-2 pitch wide of first base where Owen Miller made a jump attempt into the netting to make the catch. But he threw the ball into the net and it was disallowed.
On the next pitch, Civale (2-6) left a curveball in the middle of the plate and Moore’s commanding line drive into left field was his first home run since July 7.
Civale matched Ray in sixth but has had nine starts since his last victory in late May. Civale allowed four hits and struck out five.
Mariners: SS JP Crawford was out of the lineup with a left pectoral muscle injury. Servais said after the game that Crawford had an MRI, but nothing significant was found and he is day to day. Crawford had appeared in 115 of 127 games before Sunday.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Guardians: Cleveland returns home and, after a day off, will open a series against Baltimore. RHP Cal Quantrill (10-5, 3.59 ERA) starts the opener. Quantrill won six straight decisions and pitched seven shutout innings in his last start against San Diego.
Mariners: Coming off a bad day, rookie right-hander George Kirby (5-3, 3.32) will make his 19th start Tuesday against Detroit. As of August, Kirby is 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA and 29 strikeouts in four starts. He allowed one run in seven innings in his last outing.