Pitcher Jarrod Washburn was handed Seattle’s lineup card upon entering the Angel clubhouse Monday and barely noticed No. 3 hitter Adrian Beltre, who finished second in National League most-valuable-player voting in 2004, cleanup batter Richie Sexson, who has six home runs and 19 runs batted in, and No. 5 hitter Bret Boone, who had a .350 career average and five homers against the left-hander.
What jumped out at Washburn was that reserve outfielder Willie Bloomquist, who has a .500 career average (nine for 18) against Washburn, was not starting.
“You believe this?” Washburn said to reliever Brendan Donnelly, barely containing his glee. “Bloomquist isn’t playing! That guy just kills me.”
His spirits sufficiently buoyed, his primary Mariner obstacle cleared, Washburn took the mound at Safeco Field and breezed through Seattle’s lineup, giving up four hits in 7 2/3 innings and striking out five to lead the Angels to a 5-0 victory in front of 24,184.
Washburn, who improved to 2-0 and lowered his earned-run average to 2.72, came within four outs of his second career shutout, but when his pitch count reached 116 in the eighth inning -- 76 of those were strikes -- Manager Mike Scioscia summoned Donnelly to close out the Mariners.
“I was happy to see Willie not in the lineup,” Washburn said. “When a guy has that many hits against you, it’s good to see him sitting.”
The way Washburn was throwing Monday night, spotting his fastball on both corners, mixing in effective changeups, split-finger fastballs and sliders, it’s doubtful Bloomquist would have made a difference. A fly-ball pitcher for much of his career, Washburn induced 13 ground-ball outs Monday.
“That’s something new for me this year,” Washburn said. “I have a real good changeup and sinker, and I’m getting a lot more ground balls than normal. I kind of like it.... I’m confident enough to throw any pitch in any count, and I’ve been keeping hitters off balance. It’s fun to be out there with all the weapons I have.”
The Angels, who beat Minnesota with two hits -- both home runs -- Sunday, managed only five hits Monday night but again made the most of them.
Steve Finley, whose paltry .149 April average got him benched Sunday, greeted May with what he hopes is a break-out performance, smacking a two-run home run to conclude a nine-pitch at-bat, his fifth homer this season, against starter Ryan Franklin in the fourth inning and doubling and scoring in the fifth.
Garret Anderson added a two-run homer in the fifth inning and was robbed of a second homer in the seventh when Seattle right fielder Ichiro Suzuki scaled the eight-foot wall and, with a contortionist-like twist, reached back across his body to make a spectacular catch of Anderson’s drive about a foot above the fence.
Anderson downplayed the catch -- “You don’t want to blow it out of proportion, because he’s a good defensive player” -- but Scioscia called it “an incredible catch,” adding that he “doesn’t know if I’ve ever seen a better catch.”
Washburn was awed but not surprised.
“Every time we’re here he does something crazy that you shake your head and laugh at,” Washburn said. “The guy is one of the most exciting players to play the game. I hate pitching against him, but I love watching him play.”
Washburn limited Suzuki to a single and a walk in four plate appearances. The only Mariner to give him any real trouble was No. 2 hitter Randy Winn, who walked in the first inning, reached on an infield single in the fourth and doubled in the sixth and eighth innings.
But Winn was stranded at third in the sixth when second baseman Adam Kennedy, making his first start this season after recovering from knee surgery, made a diving stop of Sexson’s grounder to the hole and threw to first to end the inning.
Winn’s eighth-inning double advanced Suzuki to third with two outs, but Donnelly replaced Washburn and got Beltre to fly to deep center field, ending the inning. Washburn held the heart of the Seattle order -- Beltre, Sexson and Boone -- hitless in eight at-bats.
“He’s at his best when he pitches, when he moves the ball and changes speeds,” Scioscia said of Washburn. “But what was encouraging is that when he needed a big fastball, he rode it up and got some big strikeouts.”