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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

May 7, 2009 at 3:40 PM

Mariners hope a flicker of goodness that ninth inning somehow carries over

Watch our latest ballpark tour, the revamped Kauffman Stadium, as we run through this latest post-mortem. And don’t forget, we’ll have Geoff Baker Live! coming to you at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time, where you can ask questions, get stuff off your chests and pretty much scream at the keyboard.
Up from the clubhouse, where the Mariners have packed their things, boarded the team bus and are speeding off to the airport for their flight to Minneapolis. No, it was not a happy room today. There are a lot of worried folks in there. And they are clinging to some of the positives seen today before four double-plays, some strikeouts and just not getting it done resulted in a 3-1 loss to the Royals.
The Mariners did force Brian Bannister to throw 105 pitches over six innings. That’s a different approach than they took with Sidney Ponson last night, or many other starters this season. But it was the ninth inning approach that had manager Don Wakamatsu hoping — praying? — there may be some light after this dark tunnel.
“I think the message to this ballclub is really the approach in the ninth inning,” he said. “From (Mike) Sweeney getting the hit, (Wladimir) Balentien (walking), even more so Yuni (Betancourt) coming off the bench and drawing the walk to put those guys into position. Especially against a guy like (Royals closer Joakim) Soria, who’s pitched so well. We had a chance in then inth and didn’t take the opportunity, but that’s the approach we need to take earlier in the ballgame to win some ballgames.”
Wakamatsu added that: “To me, that was playing the game of baseball. We’ve just got to do those things from the first inning on. Those little things help a ballclub get over some things.”
He saw some of those things before the ninth.
“I think the big thing is the way we started, at least pitch-count wise,” he said. “That puts pressure on the opposing team, where the starter’s not going seven or eight and then it’s just the closer, When we can get into a bullpen and we can make that guy work a little bit, it’s a step in the right direction. I thought we had some good at-bats today. Other times, I think, whether it’s just pressure or whatever, I think we get a little bit big, a little aggressive and we shouldn’t.”
Wakamatsu liked what was shown by Balentien, who delivered a double against right hander Bannister and then drew that walk in the ninth off Soria. He’s likely earned himself more playing time going forward. As we mentioned before, Endy Chavez is in a 3-for-29 slump and not getting much done, so it might not hurt to sit him a bit.
As far as Jarrod Washburn goes, you’ve all seen the numbers I wrote earlier today. Out of 123 starts made since the beginning of 2005, his team has scored two runs or fewer in 61 of those contests. It’s happened to him three out of six times already this season. Surprisingly, he’s actually 1-1 in those games. Thats how well he’s pitched this year. Problem is, his offense — like so many the past four-plus years — can’t measure up.
Washburn can’t figure it out, He knows the odds against it happening to one pitcher over and over. Well, he can imagine it, anyway. We’ll try to find a statistician who can do that formula one of these days. Highly unlikely though.
I asked Washburn whether he was aware, by the middle innings, that he couldn’t afford to give up any more runs, already down 2-0.
“You get a feeling of that,” he said. “That’s my mental state going into a game. Don’t allow any runs, and then if they get a run, don’t allow two runs. So, I’m trying every inning I’m out there to put up zeros, but yeah, you get a feeling during a game as a game progresses that hey, you’ve got to buckle down because it’s going to be a tight one.”
He added: “If I go out and give up two runs in seven innings, we’re going to win a lot of ballgames.”
For the record, only one of the runs was earned. Same as his last outing, a seven-inning, one-run affair that became a no-decision and a loss by the team.
The M’s can’t keep throwing away these starts. Between Washburn’s last two, the prior one by Erik Bedard and the one by Chris Jakubauskas in Chicago, that’s four wins in eight days the M’s have literally given away because they could not muster the bare minimum of offense. And it has to end if this team wants to contend.
The M’s are a half-game out of first place, so the season is hardly ending. But this serious problem has to be overcome. The pitching is still there, largely. And the defense is also there, despite Ronny Cedeno’s error today. But this offense is not major leagfue caliber. And the best way to improve it is for guys to focus on getting their jobs done.
Ichiro did it today.
The team needs him to be more of a threat more often. Adrian Beltre could not come through with two on and two out in the first inning today. But he later singled and has been hitting the ball hard here. Now, he has to put it together.
Some of you are getting on Ken Griffey Jr. Granted his overall numbers have not been there either, but he continues to work counts, take pitches and did have two hits today. He had a double last night and his average is up to .214. Of course that’s not enough. It’s no better than Jose Vidro was giving you out of the DH spot last night. But Griffey has been hampered on and off by physical issues. We’ll see whether he starts coming around. If he doesn’t, if he remains a black hole power-wise, this team is in trouble.
Jose Lopez, we’ve mentioned has to do more as well. He didn’t get it done today.
None of these players is really coming through the way they are expected to. When that happens, or at least three of the four get going consistently — read that last word carefully — then this offense may have more to show for itself. No call-up from the minors is going to make any real difference right now. This team has to get guys producing the stats projected for them. Plain and simple. Because if they start doing it in June, or July, it may be too late for this team. They will have likely wasted a golden opportunity to put more distance between themselves and the Angels.
To make life easier on themselves. And who in this world doesn’t want that?

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