May 2, 1996 in Sports

Mariners’ Good Notion Fades Away Johnson’s Injury Disturbs Piniella’s Pitching Plans

Larry Larue Tacoma News Tribune
 

There is nothing in baseball flimsier than a well-considered plan.

The Seattle Mariners had one Wednesday night - and it led perfectly into the four-game series against Cleveland that begins in the Kingdome tonight. It also fell apart after two innings.

When starter Randy Johnson departed with a tight right calf muscle before the third inning, manager Lou Piniella had to get six innings out of his bullpen in what became a 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers.

Instead of getting a win out of their staff ace - and Seattle had won 35 of Johnson’s last 38 starts - the Mariners limped home in second place with a weary bullpen to face the red-hot Indians.

“We’re going to need some innings from our starters,” Piniella said. “And we don’t even know who our starter is Saturday night.”

One night after using relievers Tim Davis and Bob Wells to help Chris Bosio cement a victory, the Mariners had to use Rafael Carmona, Mike Jackson, Davis and - for a third of an inning - Norm Charlton.

All of them pitched well, and over the final six innings Texas scored just one run. It was enough to beat Mike Jackson, who gave up a first-pitch solo home run to Will Clark leading off the seventh.

“I know Will; I played with him and he takes the first pitch a lot,” Jackson said. “I threw him a fastball that tailed away, but it didn’t tail enough. I put it right where he likes it.”

The loss brought Seattle home with a 3-4 record on this seven-game swing, and while Piniella called that “satisfactory,” he has new concerns.

There is Johnson and when he’ll pitch again. Then there is his disappearing center fielder, Ken Griffey Jr.

“I weighed 216 pounds when we left Arizona,” Griffey said. “I weigh 202 pounds today. I don’t know what’s going on - I’m eating everything I can find.”

As for Johnson, this one was labor from the first pitch on. After leadoff hitter Damon Buford singled, Ivan Rodriguez hit Johnson’s sixth pitch of the game for a two-run homer.

When Seattle rallied to give Johnson a 3-2 lead in the top of the second, scoring twice on Dan Wilson’s double, Johnson immediately gave the Rangers two more runs and a 4-3 lead.

“It was obvious he wasn’t comfortable,” Piniella said.

Edgar Martinez hit his sixth homer in the third to tie the game, but Johnson never came out of the dugout again. Though he was 4-0 with a 2.91 earned-run average before this trip began, two injury-shortened starts later that ERA is 4.08.

“It’s a good thing we’re leaving here today or I’d break something,” Jay Buhner said. “I’ve crushed three balls the last two nights and gotten nothing to show for it. It’s frustrating.”

In the seventh, with two on and two out, Buhner flied to the fence in deepest right-center field.

“If that ball goes out, we win,” Buhner said.

It didn’t. They didn’t. Today, the Mariners are likely to make a roster move to bring in another pitcher to beef up their bullpen.

“What we’ve got to do now,” Piniella said, “is come up with another plan.”

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