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July 2, 2007 at 10:20 PM

Failure to hit, communicate costs M’s

Say goodbye to the eight-game win streak, although the Mariners seriously did not deserve to win tonight’s game. Not when they manage just two hits from innings two through 10 before dropping a 3-2 decision to the Kansas City Royals in 11 innings.
So, there were, as you might imagine, plenty of questions for new manager John McLaren after this game. Let’s forget about his only using George Sherrill for one batter, or the fact he didn’t put Jason Ellison out in right field for defensive reasons in extra innings. Those are nit-pick second-guesses. Ellison would have burned the bench and you try not to do that in tie games and I’d personally like to see Guillen’s bat hitting in the 12th or 13th inning.
As for Sherrill, well, that’s the new manager’s call. Though he didn’t have J.J. Putz available and could have been more sparing by making Sherrill go longer. But — and it’s a big but — forcing Sherrill to work multiple innings would have taxed his arm. So, no real criticism on those two points. It’s a gut call and McLaren did it his way. No real right or wrong.
On to the next stuff, Felix Hernandez was taken out simply because he had nothing left in his arm. He said the humidity simply wore him out.
“I was tired from the sixth inning on,” he said. “I was a little bit tired because of the weather.”
What a night for Hernandez, who went eight innings on only 92 pitches. How did he do it? His two-seam fastball was working, getting him the type of quick groundouts that also conserve a pitch count. Sure, he mixed in other pitches as well. But this was the best his two-seamer has worked in a long time.
Now, on to the real biggie problem of the night. It occured in the 11th inning with two on, first base open and Emil Brown coming to the plate. Forget Brown’s stats this year, the fact he’s hitting .230 with only three homers and stuff. You don’t want to mess with this guy when all he needs to do is hit a fly ball. He does that an awful lot. In this case, a fly ball wins the game.
McLaren had thought about walking Brown to get to lefty-hitting rookie Alex Gordon. He would then have brought on southpaw Ryan Rowland-Smith and hoped for the best.
But Brown had already struck out after chasing some bad pitches in a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth. McLaren figured he’d have Brandon Morrow try to get Brown to chase some balls in the dirt.
“We were trying to make him swing at bad pitches,” McLaren said in a post-game session you can listen to here on audio. “Throw splits in the dirt. Like he struck out before. It just didn’t work out. We gave him too good a pitch to hit and he hit it.
“You look back now and the strategy didn’t work,” McLaren added. “But he’d swung at a lot of bad pitches the time before.”
Here’s the problem. Morrow had no clue that this was the strategy. He actually shook off Kenji Johjima when the latter called for a splitter and threw his regular, heat-infused fastball. But Brown can go mano-a-mano and drilled a pitch to center that Ichiro hauled in but had no play at the plate on.
“Nobody told me that,” Morrow said of the pitch strategy. “He (Johjima) called for the split and I shook for the fastball. If they had told me we were trying to get him to chase something, then, I don’t know. I don’t want to say I would have done it differently.”
Morrow said he was merely trying to attack the righthanded hitter with his best pitch. “I thought they wanted me to try to get him out,” Morrow said. “They decided to go righty-righty so I went after him.”
Listen to the entire interview here on audio.
So, there you have it. Should right fielder Guillen have caught the David DeJesus double to lead off the 11th? He thinks so, even though the ball was a screamer. Guillen took a step in and never recovered in time as the ball went over his head.
He was willing to accept responsibility, saying “you can put that one on me.”
Guillen also admitted he was caught off guard by the power behind the DeJesus line drive. DeJesus finished the night with a solo homer and two doubles and scored three runs.
“That little man freaking hit the ball like he weighs 300 pounds,” Guillen said. “The ball just jumped off his bat like he was one of those power hitters who’s going to have 34 homers.”
The bullpen was great as usual tonight. But you simply can’t rely on them to finish all the time. Seattle’s offense failed to produce when it mattered. And new manager McLaren failed to communicate his strategy, either directly or indirectly through his catcher, with his rookie reliever when it mattered. But hey, these things happen. Let’s all give McLaren a break. It was his first game, a huge day for him under some trying circumstances. A lot of mixed emotions and stress flowing through his brain and a tough game to manage in, full of strategy, right off the bat. Had his team won it, we’d all be singing his praises.
One loss after eight straight wins is something the M’s can handle. As I mentioned this morning, the law of averages said this streak was bound to end sooner or later. It’s how the M’s respond to it that will speak volumes about their chances. Do they bounce back and win this series? Or do they lose it, then drop the first two against some tough pitching in Oakland? That’s why we have to wait until the All-Star break before seriously gauging their chances and deciding what they should do about trades. Let’s see how they respond.



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