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May 26, 2013 at 7:47 PM

Veterans come through to help Mariners end streak

Mariners stream from their dugout in celebration after Jason Bay hits walkoff single in the 13th inning.

Mariners stream from their dugout in celebration after Jason Bay hits walkoff single in the 13th inning.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about the team’s dismal numbers with runners in scoring position this season, something manager Eric Wedge has suggested is largely because an inexperienced squad has lacked ice in its veins and chokes the bat too hard when tight situations arise.

But today, Wedge saw some veteran performers come through with some of the most clutch at-bats we’re liable to see all year.

The biggest was Jason Bay’s broken bat single to left in the 13th inning, delivering a 4-3 walkoff win over the Texas Rangers. Bay had nearly won the game in the 11th but was robbed of a home run by David Murphy. He also had a pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth to put two on, but Dustin Ackley and Jesus Sucre could not deliver from there.

Speaking of clutch hits, the one by Raul Ibanez in the 11th might be the biggest the Mariners get all season. Seattle was down a run and facing Joe Nathan, who hadn’t blown a save all season, when Ibanez launched a ball into the right field seats. Ibanez has hit big home runs late before, including two of the biggest in last year’s playoffs with the New York Yankees.

The key, he said, is to try not to let the enormity of the situation overwhelm you. He was once driving his car in Kansas City while playing for the Royals and heard Hall of Famer George Brett on the radio discussing how he’d try to get calmer and more relaxed as the game’s situation grew tighter.

That’s something Ibanez has worked at ever since.

“I think you just take the midset of getting a good pitch to hit,” he said. “You try not to do too much with it and barrel it up. Fortunately, I was able to get that pitch and get it airborne to right field and get it out.”

As I mentioned earlier, the stakes of losing this game were likely growing exponentially for the Mariners as this game got deeper into extra innings. A loss would have been even more devastating after such a long period, given the context of the losing streak and how hard the Mariners worked to get back in it.

“That’s something that, when you’re in the game, you know what’s been going on but you can’t think that way,” Ibanez said. “You just think about winning this game one pitch at a time and trying not to overdo anything. If you start thinking about the circumstances of the situation and what’s been going on, then you might try too hard. That usually doesn’t work out in your favor.”

Another huge homer came from Kendrys Morales, who tied a 2-0 game in the sixth with his two-run blast off starter Nick Tepesch. By that point in the game, the Mariners were looking like they might not score at all.

“The losses really changed the way we looked at things,” Morales said. “This was a really huge win. This really got us back on track.”

Bay said postgame that the enormity of the game was weighing on players as the extra innings dragged on.

“It was probably bigger than people will let on,” Bay said. “I think that just the struggles we’ve been on and especially that game, the way it was going early on, it was kind of an offensive lull again. And then to come back — believe it or not, the bench was probably the most enthusiastic it’s been in a week or so. Just being down 2-0 and then, boom, Kendrys hits that homer and then Texas comes back and we’re down again and then Raul…

“I think everyody, collectively, in that dugout kind of felt the urgency that we had today.”

And that urgency is not over yet.

The Mariners are eight games under .500 and now have a golden opportunity to claw their way back towards .500 over the next week with four games against San Diego, then three more facing the Twins. That would buy them some time to figure out what to do with the starting rotation and some hitting black holes in the lineup moving forward.

But it won’t matter if the Mariners can’t get better starting pitching. Hisashi Iwakuma finally did today what the other four starters — including Felix Hernandez — could not deliver during the losing streak. He threw a quality, eight-inning start.

The Mariners will settle for even five decent innings from Aaron Harang tomorrow and Brandon Maurer on Tuesday. After that, the Mariners need better performaces from Joe Saunders and — yes — from Hernandez as well.

The Mariners aren’t paying Hernandez all those millions to have his usual sluggish month of May. This team is supposed to be done with audition/rebuild mode and that means a $20 million pitcher like Hernandez is not allowed to have off months anymore. It is too important that he deliver month-to-month consistency when wins are expected by a team and not just a happy coincidence.

This team needs more from its ace and from the other three guys. More like what Iwakuma showed today. That was an ace-like performance.

And then, the offense also needs to step it up.

Without the veterans, this team would be about 15 games under .500 right now.

For all the grief the organization took over signing veterans this winter, we’ve got:

Kendrys Morales: .293 avg/.369 OP/.475 SLG/.844 OPS

Michael Morse: .244 avg/.310 OP/.446 SLG/.756 OPS

Jason Bay: .245 avg/.353 OBP/.408 SLG/.761 OPS

Raul Ibanez: .236 avg/.277 OBP/.547 SLG/.824 OPS

Yeah, nothing wrong with those numbers. Some of them, like with Morse, could be even better.

But any team will still take a struggling middle of the order hitter like Morse with an OPS of .756 over a defensively-challenged backup catcher like John Jaso with his .658 OPS.

Casper Wells? I think the team has what it wants off the bench with Bay.

This team needs its young players to step up and show they can be counted on. Other than Kyle Seager and his .274 average and .806 OPS, you’ve got a whole lot of struggle right now.

Jesus Montero played his way into Class AAA.

Dustin Ackley is now batting .205 with a .516 OPS and should be AAA-bound after some of those at-bats we saw today. Ackley went hitless again, spoiled a big ninth inning rally with a popout and is in an 0-for-19 slump that seems him down 0-2 or 1-2 in just about every count.

The Mariners were prepared to take a minor leaguer off the 40-man roster two days ago to give Jesus Sucre a spot before the club was forced by a media leak into the DFA of Robert Andino. It’s time to use that spot to bring Nick Franklin to the big leagues and see whether he is merely another hyped prospect or whether he can actually show something in the majors. He may struggle but right now, he can’t do any worse than Ackley looks.

Michael Saunders is in a big-time funk as well, hitting just .215 with a .656 OPS.

Justin Smoak was starting to come around a bit. He’s got a big-time, walk-fueled OBP of .352, but only a .346 slugging mark. Right now, many are still on the fence with him. But this team needs more production.

You can’t replace all the struggling guys, but this team is carrying at least one liability too many right now.

And that’s why the offense has struggled huge.

And in the end, if the Mariners can’t get this season turned around and it costs folks their jobs, it doesn’t look like the veteran hitters will be the ones to blame.

Right now, any failure by this offense lies mainly with the “young core” that was supposed to be further along than this for a team into its fifth year of rebuilding. And the architects of that “plan” — as mentioned before — will live and likely die with the success or failure of that core to deliver results.

There is still time left.

But the results have to come. And the Mariners will need to do all they can to ensure better results this week before the caliber of opponent starts to rise again.

If the folks in charge don’t do all they can to better their own fortunes, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves if it all falls apart in the end.

 

Comments | More in postgame analysis | Topics: jason bay; raul ibanez; kendrys morales; hisashi iwakuma

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