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Heart of M’s order comes up short in loss to Tigers

SEATTLE – All teams – even these Punch-and-Judy Seattle Mariners – need a big bop every now and then.

Lately, the Mariners haven’t gotten enough big ball to match their small-ball ways, and Sunday it was among the factors that cost them for the third time in four games. The Detroit Tigers pulled off an 8-2 victory at Safeco Field, where the Mariners went another day with little production from the middle of their batting order.

The Mariners’ 3-4-5 hitters – on Sunday they were Ken Griffey Jr., Adrian Beltre and Jose Lopez – combined for a 2-for-12 game and no runs batted in.

After starting the season 8-3, the Mariners have lost three of their past four games and, in losing two of three to the Tigers, lost a series for the first time this season.

The 3-4-5 hitters went 8 for 36 in the Tigers series, with five of the hits in Friday’s victory and three of those in one inning.

“The hitting, pitching and defense feed off each other,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “The last couple of days, we’ve faced some good pitching and really haven’t gotten anything going offensively.”

Sunday, 20-year-old right-hander Rick Porcello held the Mariners to five hits and only one extra-base hit in seven innings. That came from Ronny Cedeno, the No. 8 hitter who hit a solo home run in the third inning.

That tied the score 1-1, just before Mariners starter Carlos Silva walked the leadoff hitter in the fifth to set the Tigers on their way to a three-run inning.

The Mariners, who’ve made bunting, running and small ball their forte, entered the game ranked next-to-last in the American League with a .359 slugging percentage and tied for next-to-last with eight home runs.

In games like Sunday’s when Detroit pitching kept baserunners to a minimum, a timely long ball could have pulled the Mariners back in contention. It never happened, and the Tigers stretched their lead with another run off Silva in the sixth, then three in the eighth caused largely by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt’s two fielding errors.

“I believe in this offense and there are a lot of guys right now who are pushing to try to do a lot of things,” Wakamatsu said. “But we’re going to score some runs. I believe that. It’s just a matter of being a little more patient.”

Health issues haven’t helped the Mariners.

Griffey hasn’t played the field in the past week because of a bad back, although nobody has used that as an excuse for his .206 average. Griffey has two homers, two RBIs and a .382 slugging percentage.

Russell Branyan missed his second straight game Sunday because of a tight back. He’s batting .273 with two homers, three RBIs and a team-best .485 slugging percentage.

Adrian Beltre is batting .200 and has no homers and six RBIs, with a .280 slugging percentage.

Lopez, the No. 6 hitter most games, is batting .195 with one homer, eight RBIs and a .317 average.

Numbers tend to be skewed so early in the season, but it’s telling that Endy Chavez has the second-highest slugging percentage on the team at .471. Chavez’s single in the eighth inning drove in the Mariners’ second run Sunday.

“I think those guys are going to warm up a little bit,” Wakamatsu said of Griffey, Beltre and Branyan. “A lot of it is self-imposed pressure. Guys trying to do too much. As we continue to play as a team, individually guys won’t try to press as much.”

Mariners pitchers gave up a season-high 12 hits and threw three wild pitches. The Tigers beat the M’s with their efficiency, pulling off two successful hit-and-run plays and a suicide squeeze.

The Mariners, meanwhile, cost themselves in each of the first two innings when Griffey and Jamie Burke grounded into double plays. Porcello retired 13 straight hitters between the third and seventh innings while the Tigers padded their lead.

“Our overall philosophy is to get a little bit deeper in counts,” Wakamatsu said. “We have an aggressive offense and sometimes that can work against you.”

Bad inning costs Silva

Compared with last year, this was a new-and-improved Carlos Silva on the mound for the Mariners on Sunday. That still didn’t mean he was good enough to beat the Detroit Tigers; just good enough not to be pounded into an early disappearance like last year.

Five days after his best start of the season, Silva made his way through a bend-but-not-shatter outing when he gave up six hits and four runs in five innings.

He faltered in the fourth, however, when the Tigers got him for three runs on a walk, two hits and a wild pitch.

“That inning, a lot of stuff was going on,” Silva said. “They had a hit-and-run that worked out well, they had a squeeze play. Pretty much, that inning won the game.”

A matter of focus

Betancourt made his first two errors of the season, both in the eighth inning when he booted consecutive ground balls. Those mistakes led to three runs when Ramon Santiago hit a three-run double off reliever Miguel Batista.

Betancourt clanked a grounder hit at him by Brandon Inge with a runner on first, then tried to back-hand a grounder to his right by Josh Anderson when the ball glanced off the heel of his glove.

“The first one, I thought he tried to be too quick,” Wakamatsu said. “The second was a back-hand ball that came up on him. Again, it’s just (a matter of) staying focused for him.”

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