On a warm Thursday in July, the Mariners turned back the clock to March. Instead of starting Felix Hernandez on normal rest, manager Lloyd McClendon trotted out much of his bullpen, spring-training style, to salvage a split in a four-game series with the Twins.
Opening with a first-time starter — and using five relievers— the Mariners fell 4-2, dropping s second consecutive series for the first time since May, for a myriad of other reasons.
Over the past six games, Seattle is 4-for-43 with runners in scoring position. The Mariners left 10 men on base, a night after leaving 12.
Slugging is another problem. Of the team’s 32 hits in its past three games, three were for extra bases. One came with a runner on.
Base-running has been equally troublesome. Worst was James Jones’ miscue in the seventh inning in which he made the third out at third while trying to advance from second on a fly out to left. There were opportunities to stretch singles into doubles, go first to third, perhaps steal a base against Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki, or advance on a ball in the dirt. Instead, Seattle was content to play station-to-station baseball.
Finally failing was defense, an area that was a strong suit over the last two months. Two miscues led to all Minnesota runs and Seattle’s third consecutive loss.
Two runs came in the third when Tom Wilhelmsen, called on to make his first major-league start, walked Sam Fuld with one out. Brian Dozier singled to right. On a double-steal attempt, catcher Mike Zunino airmailed the throw way over third base, allowing Fuld to score and Dozier to advance to third. Suzuki delivered a sacrifice fly to center for a 2-1 lead.
Danny Farquhar took over, ending the threat. His own trouble came in the fifth. Beginning with Fuld, the Twins collected three singles from the first four hitters, only to have one caught stealing.
With runners on first and third and two out, McClendon opted for lefty Joe Beimel to face the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales. That’s when the second miscue occurred. The former Mariner drilled a double over the head of a late-reacting Jones in center, scoring both runs.
Three more relievers — Dominic Leone, Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge — surrendered nothing more than a hit in scoreless work. All in all, a successful night of relief for Johnny All-Staff.
“Our bullpen did a nice job for us,” McClendon said. “(We) came out of it in pretty good shape.”
Had it not been for those missing hits, or the optimal three-run homer, things may have been different. Instead, after Kyle Seager homered to lead off the second, Seattle continued to search for the elusive clutch hit.
Corey Hart left six men on base, twice failing to get on with the bases loaded. In the third trailing 2-1, Hart struck out on a 3-2 breaking ball. In the fifth, down 4-1, he cued a 2-0 pitch off the end of his bat for a ground-out to first.
Wilhelmsen’s first career start was abrupt, lasting 2.2 innings. Slightly less than what McClendon was hoping for, but still an admirable effort. “The Bartender” allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit and three walks while striking out three.
“We just haven’t gotten that big hit to put us over the top,” McClendon said. ”But our guys are grinding it out. I’ve said all year, it’s hard to win games at this level on a nightly basis, and I don’t care who you’re playing, or who you think you should beat . . . It’s the big leagues.
“Stay the course, that’s it. I don’t change, and they know who I am. It’s just the way we go about our business.”
Seattle wasn’t the only side trotting out an inexperienced starter. Yohan Pino, a 10-year veteran of the minor leagues, made his fifth career appearance won his first career game.
In his last start, Pino, 30, allowed one run on three hits and two walks over six innings against the Yankees. The Mariners fared better, but were likewise unable to scratch across multiple runs against the rookie.
The Mariners recalled reliever Lucas Luetge from Triple-A and optioned reliever Stephen Pryor . . . OF Michael Saunders was pulled from an at-bat during the game with what looked like an oblique muscle or hip issue. McClendon said he will undergo an MRI Friday . . . The Mariners have been limited to three runs or fewer over the last seven games at home since June 27. They are 3-4.