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April 8, 2013 at 11:52 PM

Mariners get more-balanced contribution on a night hits were sparse

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There weren’t all that many hits to speak of tonight despite all the predictions that Safeco Field might turn into a bandbox overnight.

Joe Saunders had a very Jason Vargas-like outing in which he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings in which he scattered six hits — none of them really all that dangerous. The Mariners also weren’t hitting the ball long distance at all, with their biggest hit all night being the Kendrys Morales double lined to the left-center gap in the third to score Michael Saunders.

But when you get only five hits total, you’ll take a 3-0 victory.

Morales had two of the hits, Saunders two more and the other was a single by No. 8 hitter Dustin Ackley. In other words, the top, middle and bottom of the order. Franklin Gutierrez also produced from the top, doing the safety squeeze bunt to bring in bottom-order guy Ackley with a huge run in the fifth.

“I was looking for a good pitch to bunt and put the ball down,’’ Gutierrez said. “It was very important for us. We need to score as many runs as we can and it doesn’t matter how we do it.’’

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Indeed, the Mariners weren’t all that concerned with style points. They are still trying to find their way as an offensive unit that can do something more than wait for the next big hit  by Morales or Michael Morse. Tonight, they at least made some things happen.

“That’s good to see,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Again, as I’ve said so many times, once these guys settle in, I think they’ll be doing it from top to bottom. In different fashion, but that’s a good way. We don’t want to be just a one-dimensional club and I don’t believe that we will be.’’

Wedge was pleased with how Saunders set the tone early and kept the Astros off the scoreboard after the Mariners took the lead in the first, then added to it in the third. On the road trip, a number of starters gave back runs right after the Mariners had scored them.

“I was glad to have a veteran guy out there tonight in this type of setting,” he said of the home opener and the crowd of 42,589. “Your home opener is always a big one. It was nice to see him go out there and set the tone and pitch. I’ve really been encouraged by his strength here his first couple of outings. Obviously, his secondary stuff was better tonight. He just did a great job.”

Saunders made pitches when he had to. The Astros entered with a .199 batting average and 74 strikeouts their first six games and he really didn’t give them a shot at any life the few times they tried to build a rally.

“I felt my command was better,” Saunders said. “I was able to feel the ball a little bit better. It was just a matter of telling yourself ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of fans in the stands tonight, you’ve got to go out and put on a decent show and treat them to a win, hopefully.’ ”

Saunders has pitched well in big games before for playoff teams. He had some help from that spectacular, diving catch by Gutierrez in the third inning to rob Ronny Cedeno.

“As soon as he hit it, I’m like ‘Uh-oh!’ but the I saw Guti running for it and I’m like ‘Ooh, he’s got a chance’,’’ Saunders said. “And he made a spectacular catch, so hats off to him.’’

As for the night’s big bat, Morales, the Mariners hope their offense as a whole sort of begins to kick things into gear as he has. After a slow 1-f0r-12 start, he has five hits his last two games and eight over his past four contests.

“I felt better tonight,’’ Morales said, with bullpen coach Jaime Navarro serving as his interpreter. “I felt more comfortable. I’m just getting into my groove. I’m just trying to get it together. I’ve been working hard in the batting cages doing the things I need to do and I’m just getting those things done for now.’’

So, we’ll see. This wasn’t a perfect game for the Mariners by any stretch. But at least they didn’t see a perfect game thrown against them by Astros starter Philip Humber like he did for the White Sox a year ago this month.

The Mariners are 4-4 and they have two more games against a pretty bad, 1-6 Astros team — which benched starting left fielder J.D. Martinez midway through this contest for some undisclosed in-game infraction likely to do with his plate approach — in order to right things a bit before more-highly-rated opponents come to town.

Comments | More in game analysis | Topics: kendrys morales; michael saunders; franklin gutierrez; joe saunders

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