SEATTLE — Aaron Cook was in the minor leagues just a few weeks ago, unsure if he would get another chance at showing the Boston Red Sox he could be an option in their starting rotation.
Cook’s start Friday night was a strong argument to keep him on the pitching staff.
Cook threw a two-hitter in the finest performance of his career, Will Middlebrooks, Cody Ross and Daniel Nava all hit solo homers in the fifth inning, and the Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 5-0.
Making his third start of the season, Cook (2-1) struck out two, walked none and needed just 81 pitches for his third career shutout and 12th complete game. He made it look easy with the overaggressive Mariners showing little patience at the plate and feeding into Cook’s game plan of inducing groundballs and meek pop outs thanks to his diving sinker.
Cook worked with speed and efficiency to the point that catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia joked it felt like he only caught five innings and only put down the fingers for one pitch.
It was hard not to call for the sinker with the results Cook was getting.
“When you’re throwing strikes early and getting them swinging it makes a world of difference. They aren’t getting quite as comfortable an at-bat,” Cook said. “I was able to pound the zone early and keep them swinging at pitches I want them swinging at.”
Cook’s only hit allowed through seven innings came on a slow tapper from Ichiro Suzuki in the fourth inning. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia charged and made a strong throw to try and get Suzuki, but first-base umpire Lance Barksdale ruled Suzuki safe on the bang-bang play.
John Jaso put any uncertainty around Suzuki’s single to rest with a base hit to right field to lead off the eighth. That was it for an offense that continues to frustrate Mariners manger Eric Wedge.
“It’s a step back today offensively and that’s hard as hell to do the way we’ve been swinging the bats here at home,” Wedge said. “I’m tired of watching it.”
Cook’s last complete game victory came on April 24, 2010, against the Marlins. Because of a broken finger that cost him part of the 2011 season and the knee issue this year, that complete game felt like an eternity ago and made Cook even more appreciative of what he accomplished.
“It means a lot to go out there and prove it, that I’m where I want to be and get back to be an effective pitcher and get back to giving our team a chance to win games and be efficient,” Cook said.
In his previous two starts with the Red Sox this season, Cook failed to make it past five innings. His first start in May was done after 2 2-3 innings and six earned runs allowed to Baltimore. He then went on the disabled list with a knee laceration and made his return to the rotation with a victory last Sunday against Atlanta, throwing five innings and giving up two earned runs.
Far from overpowering, Cook didn’t record his first strikeout of the season until getting Chone Figgins looking in the third inning. He was extremely economical with his pitches entering the eighth inning having thrown just 63 total and only 17 balls. Only four of the first 21 outs Cook got were recorded by the outfield.
Jaso’s single leading off the eighth was sharply hit and it gave Seattle its third runner of the game. Dustin Ackley reached on an error leading off the sixth, but all three times the Mariners got a baserunner, they never reached second. Pedroia made sure of that closing out the eighth by making a diving grab of Ackley’s hard grounder, flipping to shortstop Mike Aviles with his glove for the first out and Aviles finishing the double play with a strong throw.
Seattle starter Hector Noesi (2-10) became the first pitcher in the majors to reach 10 losses by dropping his seventh straight and he was hammered during a stretch of nine batters in the fifth and sixth innings.
Middlebrooks was up first in the Red Sox homer parade after nearly hitting one out to deep center field in his first at-bat in the second inning. Noesi continued his season-long struggles of putting away batters with two strikes by leaving a pitch down the middle that Middlebrooks lined to the back of the Red Sox bullpen in left field.
Then came Ross’ 432-foot shot into the second deck in left for his 12th homer of the season. It was the fourth time this year the Red Sox went back-to-back. Two batters later, Nava went deep and an inning later, Saltalamacchia hit his 15th homer doing the opposite way to left-center.
“Everything is going well. I’m staying with the same approach I’ve had all season, not trying to change it and things are working,” Saltalamacchia said.
Notes: Cook’s other two shutouts came in 2009 vs. Atlanta and 2008 vs. San Diego. … Seattle placed CF Franklin Gutierrez on the seven-day concussion DL on Friday. Gutierrez was hit in the side of the face with an errant pick-off attempt in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Boston and spent the night in a hospital for observation. … Seattle is 0-3 this season when the Safeco Field roof has been closed during the game.