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April 10, 2008 at 2:53 PM

M’s blown out in finale

The crowd reacts in celebration as Richie Sexson, pictured above, takes a called third strike from Trever Miller to end today’s game.
An ugly finish to this game for the M’s, who trailed only 1-0 heading into the sixth, but gave up a run that frame and five more in the seventh to lose 7-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays. Seattle managed just two hits over eight innings against the Rays’ fifth starter. A disappointing performance today. Manager John McLaren told me before the game he was looking for some momentum heading into this weekend’s series with the Angels.
He told us afterwards: “It was not a good road trip. But we did win the series. The Baltimore series really set us back. Now, we’ve got to go home, get a good winning streak going out there.”
I think any momentum the Mariners gained in winning here the last two nights went out the window today. They looked flat. Swung into quick and easy outs and did not jump on starter Edwin Jackson when they had some chances in the early innings. Unimpressive showing today. Too many hitters not carrying their weight. Yes, it’s early. But a few guys have to get going. Kenji Johjima looked terrible today.

Johjima is batting .071 and is the midst of an 0-for-22 slump. He can’t remember ever battling thorugh anything like this.
“As of right now,” he said, through an interpreter, “I think I’m trying to hit everything, which is impossible to do even when you’re in the right groove.”
We asked Johjima if he needed one good game of solid contact to get over the hump.
“Just one hit,” he said. “That’s what I need. And it’s tough to bring out that hit when you’re in this situation.”
I spoke to hitting coach Jeff Pentland about what’s going on with his hitters. There are three of them — Johjima, Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro — batting .139 or worse. The Mariners are well below the usual average of .300 when it comes to balls they bat into-play actually going for hits. I asked Pentland about that and whether he felt his players were being victimized by hitting balls right at where defenders are standing.
He agreed that might have been the case in the first week of the season. Not so much lately.
“We’re not squaring it up,” Pentland said. “My whole philosophy is, put the fat part of the bat on the ball.”
And that hasn’t happened. You saw all of those harmless tappers to infielders today. Pentland mentioned all the bats getting broken by Orioles pitchers in Baltimore the last series.
“Those are things that are not really the m.o. of our ballclub,” Pentland said. “We’re a put-it-into-play type of team.”
Pentland also said that better pitch selection will be crucial to his team going forward. The M’s, as we know, are free-swingers and don’t always wait for their pitch. Some positive signs on that front? The M’s entered today tied with Chicago for the AL lead in walks, then got four more against Rays starter Jackson. And the Elias Sports Bureau says Seattle began the day leading the league with the best walks-to-strikeouts ratio. They won’t do that all year, but the message seems to be slowly seeping in. They are being more selective at the plate — at least more patient.
Let’s see if that starts translating to hits. This team needs some. The Angels are coming to town and the pitching matchups appear to favor Seattle. That won’t matter if the M’s can’t score runs. They scored 13 here in the first two games of this series, but have just 27 in their eight other games.



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