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May 14, 2012 at 8:44 PM

Once again, too few Mariners get it done early and it costs them in a loss

Join me Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. PT for my Talkin’ Baseball segment on Sports Radio 950 KJR’s Mitch in the Morning show with host Mitch Levy.
Once again, the Mariners had a starting pitcher bury them by the fourth inning and the predictable result was a 6-1 loss.
Jason Vargas wore this one appropriately, admitting he had just one pitch — a fastball — working for him all night. When that happens, the opposing hitters just have to sit back and wait for him to center a few because they know his changeup isn’t going to land for a strike unless he grooves it.
But Vargas had some help tonight. His offense got zero going against Puyallup native Jon Lester the first five innings and by the time they managed anything, they were too far behind for it to matter.
So, a bit of a team effort there.
Lester needed just 55 pitches to get through the first five innings. He allowed just an Ichiro infield single off his glove in the fourth inning during that span and the Mariners couldn’t hit a ball out of the infield until a couple of flyouts in the fifth.
Yeah, that’s not going to win many games.
Neither is being down 5-0 by the fourth for the second time in three days.
Vargas had a Fenway Park double skied off the Green Monster in left field by David Ortiz for the game’s first run. But an ensuing double by Adrian Gonzalez was ripped down the line for another run.
Then, in the second, we’d noted in the game blog that a pair of infield singles off Vargas were scorched rather hard. Finally, in the fourth, the first homer by Daniel Nava this season and a second, rocket blast by Kelly Shoppach were legit long balls.
“I was really more upset with the fourth inning more than anything,” Vargas said. “I had a chance to keep us in the ballgame, even with mediocre stuff.
“But I let the bottom part of their lineup get ahead of me and it kind of put us out of the ballgame right there.”

Vargas acknowledged that “their homers weren’t cheap” and that even a couple of the more questionable doubles off the high wall were something he could have done more with.
“They are what they are but that’s the meat of their order and you’ve got to play to the dimensions here,” he said. “I should have done a better job of keeping us in the game. That’s the bottom line.”
Indeed it is. Teams don’t get style points because home runs off them barely make it over the wall. This was the park the Mariners were playing in, just like they were in Yankee Stadium the other day when somebody sent a shorter-distance homer over the right field wall there.
When facing guys who can hit a ton of flyballs over the Green Monster, you have to keep pitches down and not center them so they can be mashed. It’s tougher to do when only one pitch is really working, but you have to get it done or you usually lose.
Both teams enjoy the same advantage here. The Mariners had plenty of right-handed bats capable of hitting balls over the same Green Monster and weren’t able to do it against a pitcher who came in struggling while the Red Sox were able to off a pitcher who’s been solid all season.
They finally did get something done off Lester in the sixth and seventh innings, getting multiple runners on each time but again not finishing.
Dustin Ackley had a single in that sixth inning — the first decent hit ball off Lester all night — to extend his hitting streak to 10 games.
Ackley told me Lester had been fooling the M’s early and often with his cutter.
“His cutter was really good,” Ackley said. “That thing looked like his fastball and it just breaks off at the last minute. When you have a pitch like that, you’re going to miss barrels a lot.”
The M’s didn’t really do anything until Lester began missing his spots, fell behind and was forced to come in with his fastball and curve. At that point, the M’s finally stopped pounding the ball into the ground.
But again, too little, too late.
They’ll try again tomorrow against Josh Beckett, another pitcher who, like Lester, has struggled of late.
And they’ll have to get to him sooner. And their pitcher, Blake Beavan, will have to do a better job of keeping his team close early on. That 5-0 thing after four isn’t going to work — plain and simple.
Vargas pitched OK after the fourth inning and really had little added trouble through six. If you break it down batter by batter, frame by frame, the whole game turned on just a handful of pitches in the fourth.
But that’s how the game works in MLB. A few less-than-perfect pitches to hitters at this level are enough to turn a nailbiter into a laugher. Vargas knows it and admitted as much.
Beavan knows it, too. Knows he’ll have to do more to keep his team in it.



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