M’s blanked in home opener
A’s Duchscherer checks Seattle on two hits
SEATTLE _ They’re built to play a style of baseball that once upon a time worked at Safeco Field.
What the Seattle Mariners unveiled Monday in their home opener was hardly a flashback to the 2000 or 2001 playoff teams that won with pitching, defense and a small-ball offense.
This one harkened merely to last week, and it wasn’t any less painful.
The Mariners continued to flail _ and fail _ to put runners on base and advance them in a 4-0 loss to the Oakland A’s.
It left the Mariners with a 2-6 record to start the season, along with a vow to alter the tension that has swept the team and turn around the losing.
“You look out there during the course of that ballgame and you see a lot of guys kind of with their heads down,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “It’s something we’re going to talk about and it’s something we’re going to attack and continue to work on and be positive about.”
The Mariners have scored 21 runs in eight games, and it’s having an effect on both sides of their game. Hitters are pressing and pitchers are trying to be too fine.
Mariners starter Ryan Rowland-Smith pitched three of the best innings of his career, carving through the A’s the first time through their order. Then he tried to be too fine and walked the bases loaded in the fourth inning before Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a sacrifice fly to give Oakland a 1-0 lead.
Wakamatsu said the hitters abandoned the game plan against A’s right-hander Justin Duchscherer, who held the Mariners to two hits.
“We pulled a lot of balls off this guy,” he said. “We had a game plan going in of trying to use the opposite field and we didn’t do it. When you talk about the theme of this ballclub, you talk about the top of the order. When they’re not functioning, everybody else starts to feel that.”
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is the only hitter with a reasonable average, .419 after going 1-for-4.
Gutierrez’s leadoff double in the fourth inning gave the Mariners a chance to tie the score, and Jose Lopez moved him to third with a grounder to second base. Ken Griffey Jr. followed with a strikeout and Milton Bradley grounded out.
Lopez singled to start the seventh but that opportunity died with runners on second and third base when Casey Kotchman and Rob Johnson grounded out.
By then the A’s were ahead 4-0 after Cliff Pennington’s solo homer in the sixth inning and Gabe Gross’ two-run single in the seventh. Both of those came after Rowland-Smith had the A’s hitters in two-strike counts but lost them.
Wakamatsu believed the lack of offensive support made a difference to Rowland-Smith, causing him to be too fine with his pitches after such a dazzling start in the first three innings.
“The first three innings were about as good as I’ve seen him,” Wakamatsu said. “And with the lack of offense, I think he thought he had to do a little bit more.”
Rowland-Smith admitted he tried to be too fine with his pitches and nibbled around the strike zone, but that the non-support from the offense had nothing to do with it.
“The first three innings, I was in sync and I was in a rhythm,” he said. “And all of a sudden I was trying to do a little bit extra and I was nibbling.”
“Looking back, I felt like Oakland is a patient club and when you get two or three times through the order, they’ll start getting a little more aggressive,” Rowland-Smith said. “That fourth inning, I was trying to nibble a little bit and make that perfect pitch.”
Offensively, the same thing is happening. The Mariners’ average of 2.6 runs is worst in the American League and next-to-last in the majors, ahead of the winless Houston Astros (1.9 runs).
“Everybody is going up there trying to hit the ball a little too hard, and it’ll change,” said Griffey, who went 0-for-4 and is batting .211. “But we’ll get it on track, and the first six games, seven games will be forgotten. I’d rather it happen this week than late September and we’ve got a chance. It’s better to do early, get it out of the way and have some fun from here on out.”