BY John Hickey 06:30PM 05/08/2011

Hickey: Ichiro, Smoak . . . then what?

Mariners have quality starting pitching but two productive hitters. They are on pace to be the worst offense in the AL — again.

Erik Bedard struck out a season-best nine Sunday, but with no offensive support had a no-decision. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

There are some encouraging things about the Mariners of late.

They are winning more – even after losing Sunday to the White Sox in 10 innings, 5-2, Seattle has won eight of its last 12 games.

They are getting good starting pitching. Erik Bedard threw five innings Sunday in which his struck out nine, giving up two runs, only one of which was earned. In the six games of the homestand the Mariners finished 3-3, the starters allowed two runs or less four times while striking out 31 and walking eight.

But the offense? In the homestand, the Mariners hit one home run and had precious few other hits. The team averaged .226 in the six games, scoring three runs or fewer the last five games. Take away the eight hits from first baseman Justin Smoak – he hit the only Seattle homer – and six hits from right fielder Ichiro , the team batting average from the six-game homestand falls to .195.

The lack of production is getting under the skin of manager  Erik Wedge, but he’s not one to tip his hand. If he shows it a little, it’s a good bet it’s bothering him a lot.

“To a man, the offense has got to do a better job of getting it done,’’ Wedge said Sunday. The Mariners had a chance to win in nine, but when Seattle came up short, the White Sox beat up closer Brandon League, pitching in a second inning, for three runs in the 10th by doing what the Mariners don’t – hitting with runners in scoring position.

“We have to find a way to get to where we don’t have to go into extra innings in this game. We had opportunities to win this one.’’

To be sure, not many. Brendan Ryan’s single in the fifth scored Jack Cust to cut a deficit against Chicago lefty Mark Buehrle to 2-1, and Ichiro followed with a run-scoring fly ball. The Mariners had three more baserunners the rest of the way; only one made it as far as second.

“This is going to change,’’ Wedge vowed. “We aren’t going to go all year scoring just two and three runs a game.’’

Wedge would like to think so, but he doesn’t have many weapons. Smoak (.293) and Ichiro (.308) are hitting well enough, but no one else in Sunday’s starting lineup has an average above .244. It would be one thing if there was power to counterbalance the low batting averages, but there’s been even less power than the Mariners anticipated coming into this season, and their expectations weren’t huge.

Of the nine in the starting lineup Sunday, Smoak had five home runs. The other eight had six total. Ichiro, Cust, Jack Wilson and Ryan haven’t hit one yet. And when the offense comes up short, the ripples across Seattle’s landscape are widespread.

“It’s frustrating, because this was a very winnable series,’’ Ryan said. “It’s frustrating to win the first game of the series and not win the series. We’ve had some spectacular starting pitching. You can’t let games like this slip away.’’

A winning series would have been the fourth in succession for Seattle. Getting two against the downtrodden (11-21 before Friday) White Sox would have left the Mariners within one game of .500 heading into a road trip to Baltimore and Cleveland. A sweep would have put Seattle over .500.

Instead, the Mariners are licking wounds. They have to wonder, despite Wedge’s insistence, where the offense is going to come from. This is a team that set a franchise record for ineptitude last year, scoring 513 runs. There wasn’t enough payroll to extensively rework the roster. So many of the same players are on hand. After 35 games, Seattle is on pace to score 578 runs.

That’s not much improvement. No AL team scored less than 613 runs last year, and 11 of the 14 teams scored 650 runs or more.

It is encouraging to see three-time shoulder surgery victim Bedard throw well.  But if the Mariners can’t translate that kind of pitching into victories, 2011 will be a replay of 2010.

NOTES: Bedard has a 1.89 ERA in his last three starts. … Chone Figgins was scratched from the original lineup. He fouled a ball off his knee and was still in pain before Sunday’s game. … Reliever Shawn Kelley was supposed to throw two innings of a simulated game Sunday. But he felt tightness in his arm and in his side, and while the pain was minor, the Mariners had him stop after throwing one inning. …Franklin Gutierrez (irritable bowel syndrome) missed a start Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma because of flu-like symptoms. Gutierrez will not be rejoining the team to start the Baltimore series as had been hoped. … The Mariners are waiting for results of an MRI on the right forearm of closer David Aardsma, whose injury rehabilitation assignment has been stopped because of the pain.

Twitter: @JHickey3


  • Fairmontdave

    Dude, Seattle should have won this game 2-0. Milton, your arm isn’t worth the bat. Milton DH, Jack Cust, bye. Hurry up Franklin, come back soon! And Sanders, D-Day is coming soon.