BY Art Thiel 06:39PM 06/15/2014

Thiel: A win the hard way spares Mariners grief

Hisashi Iwakuma almost didn’t make his start, and 1B Logan Morrison nearly lost his eye in a tantrum, but the Mariners survived all perils to end a 5-game losing streak.

A sore neck nearly kept Hisashi Iwakuma from starting the game Sunday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

The Mariners ended a five-game losing streak Sunday, but the 5-1 margin over the Texas Rangers was deceiving. In multiple ways, they came close to being swept at home for a second consecutive series. But Kyle Seager’s two doubles and three RBIs, along with Hisashi Iwakuma’s dedication to duty, spared them ignominy.

Iwakuma, the Mariners’ second-best pitcher, developed a sore neck in warmups and came close to not making the start. Trainers worked on him in the bullpen and loosened up the muscles sufficiently that he pulled off a six-hit, one-run mastery of the Rangers.

“I needed to pitch today,” he said through translator Anthony Suzuki. “I felt responsible, especially after losing five in a row.”

Halfway through the game, 1B Logan Morrison, angry after a miserable at-bat, smashed his bat against a clubhouse wall, causing a shard to break off and slash his eyebrow. The wound gushed blood and took five stitches to close, forcing him out of the game.

With regular first baseman Justin Smoak on the disabled list and potential backups Dustin Ackley and Willie Bloomquist already in the field — and too scared to put in reserve Jesus Montero — manager Lloyd McClendon called on backup catcher John Buck to make the first appearance of his 11-year major league career at first base to start the sixth inning.

Fortunately for the Mariners, the 6-3, 245-pounder, who takes ground balls regularly during pre-game warmups, was flawless.

“I don’t know if I’m going to take over Smoak’s spot,” said Buck, grinning. “He should be nervous.

“I think that the fact I put in the work . . . he felt comfortable enough to go ahead and do it.”

Morrison, sporting an ugly welt — a small price, given how close he was to losing his left eye — was contrite and mortified.

“I got in a fight with my bat — it wasn’t getting hits,” he said, attempting humor. “Actually, I acted like a three-year-old. I apologized to my teammates, and will to (McClendon). No matter how bad I’m playing, I can’t do that.

“I’m embarrassed. I usually don’t snap. I have to take lessons from Kyle Seager, or somebody.”

Actually, all the Mariners hitters should take lessons from Seager, whether in decorum or strike-zone management. In the fifth, Seager interrupted the Mariners’ offensive torpor against rookie Nick Martinez, another minor-league callup to patch the Rangers’ injury-decimated staff, with a two-out double that plated Endy Chavez (single) and Robinson Cano (walk) for a 2-1 lead.

The double came right after the fateful Morrison at-bat. After a clueless swing against Martinez, Morrison hit a nearly a roof-high infield pop-up, easily caught, that sent his batting average to .135 (2 for 17 on the homestand) and his adrenal gland to boil.

The Mariners might even have benefited from the adolescent drama, because Buck led off the eighth with a single, the first of four consecutive hits that produced three runs. Included was another Seager double, completing a  4-for-4 afternoon with 3 RBIs. He’s had six multi-hit games in the past eight against the Rangers (16 for 32).

That virtually assured a win for Iwakuma, who was allowed to go to 106 pitches through eight innings despite the pre-game peril. The only run came on an absolute fluke — in the second, the first career home run for Rangers 1B Brad Snyder, who came into the game hitting .091.

Said McClendon of Iwakuma’s endurance: “That shows you how tough he is.”

Iwakuma’s participation was assured only in the final hour before game time.

“To be honest, as I was playing catch, I felt (that I might not make the start,” he said. “When my neck started loosening, I felt some confidence.

“I felt it during warmups. I called the trainers to stretch me out. I felt some pain in the game, but it was more discomfort. It got better as the game went on.”

Fortunately for the health of all concerned, so did the Mariners offense. Who knows who else might have been infected by the Morrison tantrum? They started three players hitting .190 or worse, and only three above .265. Seattle entered the game with an American League-worst team batting average of .236.

The Sunday “explosion” was the most in seven games, giving the Mariners a whopping 32 runs in the past 11. The outcome bumped them a game over .500 (35-34), one ahead of the Rangers, who took two of three.

But if this amount blood and pain is required on a daily basis for a win, the AAA Tacoma Rainiers better hire a helicopter to beat the traffic to Seattle.


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YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    The BEST GM the Mariners have had is Gillick, by far, the architect of the 116 win season.
    One skill he had was assembling players he picked up from other teams, ones that were in their 30′s and who were able to play together as a team. The results were obvious, yet when many of these were picked up they were generally something of head scratchers. Gillick just had the pulse of players who were available and under the radar.

    As the M’s are actually above 500 this “late” (for them) in the season, I would suggest Lincoln get Gillick in on a consulting contract and see who he can turn up.
    He is a consultant with the Phillies, who he turned around, yet he does live in Seattle now AND may be available for an American league team???

    • Long-Time Mariners Fan

      I’m confused. I looked up and down the 25-man roster and the 40-man roster, and I don’t see the name “Gillick.” If he’s not on the roster, I don’t see how McClendon can pencil this Gillick into the lineup and have him save the day.

      All the carping about management is moot at this point. The games are won or lost on the field with the players we have. Better to ask why Morrison doesn’t have enough discipline to keep from hurting himself in the dugout. Better to ask why McClendon was “too scared” (Art’s characterization) to play Montero at first base after Morrison is injured. Better to praise Iwakuma’s persistence and resilience and chalk up another victory.

      We are above .500. We are playing much better than last year. We’ve shown flashes of goodness and sparks of greatness. We’re still in this.

      • Big

        It does appear that .500 is the new contender.

        • art thiel

          Exactly. That’s why smart management could win the day this summer. And why Gillick’s name surfaces.

      • art thiel

        It’s fair now to bring up management because we’re six weeks out from the trading deadline, and the Mariners purport to be buyers. The Mariners couldn’t induce the best available hitter, Morales, to come back. What do Lincoln and Z do — play the hand, or take a draw?

        • RadioGuy

          Best to play the hand they’ve been dealt, especially if they are honestly seeking pitching (the one area of the team that has exceeded expectations even after Walker and Paxton went down). Given what’s happened the past decade, I’d be happy to settle at or near .500, call it “progress” and look for help next year.

          You trade away prospects when you’re close to playoff contention and need that one player to push you over the top. Despite the mediocrity that defines the AL this season the M’s aren’t at that point yet, and I don’t trust these guys to NOT make another Choo-for-Broussard or Cabrera-for-Perez deal (let alone Jones-and-Tillman-for-Bedard).

    • RadioGuy

      I agree that Pat Gillick would be great in any kind of role, but I don’t see it working with the Mariners. Hiring consultants only works if you listen to them and when has Howard Lincoln ever listened to anyone? And how willing would Jack Zduriencik be to consider the advice of the guy who set the table for what a GM in Seattle can do (and would thus be considered a threat to Z’s own employment)?

      In a perfect world, Gillick would be back as GM and Zduriencik would move to farm director (and he HAS done a nice job of rebuilding the M’s system, which Gillick and Bill Bavasi both allowed to become a prospect ghetto during their respective terms). The Mariners don’t live in a perfect world, however…they live in Lincolnland, where the only thing that matters is the profit/loss statement.

      • art thiel

        As I said above, there’s no going back to Gillick.

        And I don’t see Z taking a step back in the org.

        • RadioGuy

          Agreed. That would be like asking John Kerry to step down as Secretary of State to run HUD.

    • art thiel

      I don’t see Z welcoming second-guessing from Gillick, nor Lincoln undercutting Z like that.

      Gillick did wonders in 2001, but his dismissal of the value of draft choices cost the M’s in subsequent years, as it did when ran Toronto, Baltimore and now the Phlllies.

  • Tim

    I totally agree with 1cool, but the problem is the ownership knew they needed to get a bat like Nelson Cruz and opted not to do it. Cano’s great, but it’s still not enough to get me back to the ball park. We know their game and it’s depressing. Felix deserves better.

    • art thiel

      Cruz is thriving in a hitter’s park in Ballamore. No way was he coming here. Cano came because he was way overpaid.

      • notaboomer

        and to prove your point, cano has 3 homers in 69 games.

    • jafabian

      I think Cano has been great considering he has no protection in the lineup and only recently began having players in front of him who get on base. (Notice that happens when Willie Bloomquist starts playing regularly and both James Jones and Endy Chavez come up?)

      Cano was right that another bat was needed to give him protection. Seager makes a good #5 hitter and he might be better suited at #6 because he tends to be streaky. I’m not terribly confident in Jack Z.’s ability to put it all together. I get this feeling when all is said and done he’ll be for the M’s what Jerry Krause was for the Chicago Bulls: a GM that gets credit despite his shortcomings but the team wins despite him.

  • jafabian

    The Rangers, like the Yankees before them, learned from their last series against the M’s and applied those lessons into their game in this series. We’ve seen despite their surprising success this season their rotation still doesn’t go beyond Felix and Kuma. At some point they’ll have to consider shutting down Elias and I’m not confident in having Ramirez staying in the rotation all season. I’ve been hoping that Walker and Paxton wouldn’t be needed this season.

    As much as I’d love to see the M’s make the playoffs I really don’t see this team being there just yet. They still have some growing up to do. McClendon has been making some great moves with the roster that he has though. If he can keep the club where it is and finish a few games over .500 he should get some attention in the Manager of the Year votes.

    • art thiel

      You’re right — too many holes for contention this year. Good scouting reports can make Young and Elias vulnerable.

  • sabasarge

    Two words……..Chris Taylor.
    If he comes up and bombs, I’ll forever more keep my trap shut, but it’s time to see what he’s got, and it’s not exactly like he’d be replacing a Ripkin or Jeter at SS.
    Please.

    • art thiel

      Did you also ask for Nick Franklin to come up? Too often fans think the hot kid in the minors is the ticket. But unless we lay eyes on him steadily for weeks, we can’t know if he’s major league ready.

      • sabasarge

        Nope, I absolutely did not, and have never been a huge fan of Franklin.
        I’m ready to see Taylor fail in the bigs, but he’s replacing chopped liver, so let’s see what he’s got.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Look at this. I’m going to argue that adding a bat in late July is too late because of how the schedule plays out. Starting August 11 they play likely playoff teams (Oakland, L.A., Toronto, Detroit) 26 of the last 45 games. There are 10 games against Boston and Texas, which you might consider a wash in terms of strength. That leaves 9 relatively ‘easy’ games against Philly and Houston. That’s too tough a schedule to move up in the standings. They have to have the bat now. Maybe it’s already too late.

    • art thiel

      Cano played GM in spring and said another righty bad was needed. He was right. But the M’s stuck with Hart and Morrison. M’s chose poorly.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Jacky Z likes players that have cost reductions because of past injuries. But, as Shakespeare said, “past is prologue”.

      • notaboomer

        Ms have jesus. trust jesus.

        • art thiel

          Hey, he’s DH tonight against a righty. He is resurrected.

  • notaboomer

    casey kotchman 1B is available as is vernon wells dh