Things aren’t so cozy on the good ship Mariner these days. Not after a 12th defeat in 15 games — capped by Ichiro’s strikeout in the photo above — has dropped the Mariners four games below .500 just 15 days after they sported a 15-10, first-place record.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu did not go in the clubhouse and scream at the players the way John McLaren did a year ago this month in New York. But I’ll tell you what: this season is starting to take on the feel of 2008. Too many winnable games are starting to slip away from the M’s far too easily. Much of it has to do with lackluster play. The defense tonight was not very good and Wakamatsu let it be known that he felt that way.
But Wakamatsu also set his sights on a much bigger target than merely Jose Lopez. The manager laid much of the blame squarely at the feet of one Felix Hernandez. And not merely for allowing six runs on 11 hits through only 5 2/3 innings.
Wakamatsu was more ticked off with the fact the Angels stole five bases and blamed Hernandez’s slow delivery times to the plate.
“Sometimes you’ve got to ask guys to step up,” Wakamatsu said of Hernandez. “I didn’t think he stepped up today.”
Ouch. That hurts almost as bad as Lopez flubbing that double-play grounder. Or hitting into that double play. Which was worse?
Anyhow, back to Hernandez. Wakamatsu keeps a calm exterior but was pretty upset after this game. I’ll play you the audio.
Click right here to hear the manager’s comments.
That’s what happens when you’re the staff ace on a night like this. You do tend to get singled out more than some equally-deserving players. Lopez, we’ve mentioned. Adrian Beltre was invisible in the middle of the order once again.
But Hernandez wants to be The Man. Tonight, he got his wish. Though, not in the way he would have liked.
If you listen further down in the clip, Wakamatsu seems to suggest he wants to see consistent excellence out of Hernandez. We alluded to it on the blog tonight. Hernandez looked great in April and again last week in Texas. But he’s also started to be more hit and miss with his outings. Once again, not a true ace in the class of a Roy Halladay. Check out how many times Halladay failed to go seven innings this year. Look it up.
Anyhow, Hernandez was a little surprised by the comments when they were relayed to him. Here is how he responded when asked what he was most frustrated by.
“I’m not frustrated,” he said. “For me, I think it was a good performance, I made good pitches, they just hit the ball in the holes. It’s unbelievable, I made great pitches to them. They’ve got a great lineup and Ijust wanted to go out there and make my pitches. That’s what I did today, but they’ve got a good lineup. It was a good performance from them.”
Hernandez was then asked what he could have done to prevent some of the stolen bases.
“I’m trying to hold the runners, but they’re fast runners, they know how to steal bases,” he said. “That’s part of this game.”
As for him feeling pressure to be the stopper, the ace:
“I don’t feel any pressure, no. It’s one of those things where I try to win every game that I can, but that’s not going to happen.”
Hernandez said Wakamatsu hadn’t spoken to him, but when told about the stolen base comments, he replied:
“That team is…part of the game is stolen bases. They have fast runners. For me, I just wanted to hold the runners, but — they’re good.”
Hernandez admitted that one of his problems tonight was falling behind some hitters early. He said he regrouped after a tough first inning, but felt he made good pitches after that. Talk eventually turned towards the team’s middle infield and some of the errors made on the field in recent games — including tonight.
“Errors are part of the game,” he said. “Errors are part of baseball. It’s got nothing to do with errors. You’ve got to go out there and play the game, that’s all.”
I asked him whether he was frustrated by what’s gone on the past two weeks, Hernandez was very excited about this team’s potential in April, telling me he thought it would do something special this year.
“I’m still excited,” he said. “I’m still excited. I believe in this team. I know we’re going to be better. We need to do the little things, that’s all.”
Hernandez is at least still talking like an ace. Now, he’s got to get back to some of those “little things” he was doing earlier in the season. I’m sure Wakamatsu will be going over a few of them with him tomorrow.