LeBlanc delivers six solid innings in victory

LeBlanc delivers six solid innings in victory

OAKLAND -- Wade LeBlanc delivered six dependable innings in a 6-3 Mariners win over the A's on Sunday, winning for the first time since July 1. It was the type of straightforward performance Seattle needs as it sorts through its rotation ahead of a playoff push.

The Mariners have their two mainstays -- Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma -- and lefty James Paxton returns Tuesday. All three have pitched well when healthy, but Seattle knows health is anything but guaranteed, seeing Hernandez miss two months with a calf strain and Paxton narrowly avoid a serious left elbow injury. Even Iwakuma, who has made 24 starts, wasn't a definite to start Saturday due to neck stiffness.

LeBlanc's logged consistent innings since joining the rotation June 24, finishing five innings in all but one start. He's yet to lose, and Seattle's now 6-1 in his starts, as the lefty is 2-0 with a 4.68 ERA since being acquired from the Blue Jays on June 22.

"It's been huge," Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. "Obviously, we've had a lot of injuries, especially to our starting pitchers. When you can get a guy who comes in and fits in seamlessly, you know what you're going to get out of him."

LeBlanc had a season-high seven strikeouts, walking just one A's batter. LeBlanc made just two mistakes -- a hanging curveball that Khris Davis hit for a two-run homer in the sixth inning and a solo homer by Ryon Healy in the second -- before turning the game over to a potent Mariners bullpen.

"I thought we had a pretty good game plan," LeBlanc said. "I missed on two pitches, which seems like the going thing for me over the last few starts. We'll get that squared away."

The A's have the third-worst on-base-percentage in the league (.304), and Zunino felt LeBlanc's ability to throw consistent strikes matched up well against Oakland. LeBlanc agreed, saying he was aggressive in throwing all four of his pitches.

"I think it fit into his strengths really well," Zunino said. "When you get to those 3-1, 3-2 counts, we can go to that soft stuff knowing that they're really aggressive."

The result was another win -- Seattle's 10th in its last 13 games. As LeBlanc noted, "We're in a playoff push right now. This is the stretch run."

With Paxton scheduled to return Tuesday, the Mariners still have an open spot in the rotation Wednesday, with manager Scott Servais saying Ariel Miranda and Joe Wieland are in the mix. They can't yet rely on 24-year-old Taijuan Walker, who was demoted to Triple-A Monday and has pitched just twice in the Majors since June 30, giving up at least five runs in each start.

LeBlanc figures to remain a consistent member of the rotation. And if Seattle hopes to stay hot, it will need to lean on its starters going forward. There is value in LeBlanc's dependability.

"You don't want to take him for granted, but it is a luxury to have a guy who is that consistent day in and day out," Zunino said.

Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.