CHICAGO – Take a bench that’s hardly conventional to start, then throw in some nagging injuries, and this is what you’re left with.
Call it the downside of your 2010 Seattle Mariners.
Those liabilities were on display in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, with the Mariners left short in their bullpen and dugout when it mattered most, and ending up swept for the first time this season.
It would be easy to blame the relievers for a third straight loss on a late home run, with Brandon League giving up a tiebreaking solo blast to Paul Konerko in the eighth, but that’s really only the start of it.
“Offensively, we got some hits today but still couldn’t bunch anything together,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
That was a common theme for Wakamatsu throughout a series in which left fielder Milton Bradley was sidelined with a calf muscle injury and shortstop Jack Wilson was shelved three innings into it with a bruised thumb. With two roster spots taken up by designated hitters, the Mariners were caught short on the bench when Matt Tuiasosopo replaced Wilson, leaving no backup outfielders once a struggling Eric Byrnes had to play for Bradley.
Throw in an injury to right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, sidelined the final two games of the series with back stiffness, and this was a sweep waiting to happen in front of 28,274 fans at U.S. Cellular Field.
Other than a solo homer by Franklin Gutierrez in the fourth and a run-scoring single by Adam Moore in the fifth, the Mariners were dominated for eight innings by White Sox starter John Danks. Yet they still had a shot to tie it in the ninth after a two-out double by Casey Kotchman.
But Wakamatsu’s bench options were limited, and pinch-hitter Ken Griffey Jr. struck out to end the game.
League, having to pitch in what would have been Lowe’s spot in the eighth, threw a sinker that didn’t sink to Konerko, who blasted it over the wall in left-center.
“It’s the same old story,” League said. “Whenever I get in trouble, the sinkers stay flat instead of sinking.”
He has been working on mechanical changes to be more consistent with his sinker, “but obviously, that takes time,” he said.
The Mariners were fortunate to still be in a game in which starter Jason Vargas had to make several do-or-die pitches over 62/3 frames just to be tied.
But all the injuries and unconventional roster construction caught up to the Mariners the final two innings, first with League out there instead of Lowe, then with Wakamatsu handcuffed options-wise after Kotchman’s two-out double in the ninth off Chicago closer Bobby Jenks.
There was nobody to replace Byrnes in left field, so the .111 hitter was forced to step to the plate.
In Saturday’s loss, Byrnes remained in a tie game for a seventh inning at-bat with two on and two out and screamed a loud expletive after popping out foul to the catcher on a 2-0 pitch. This time, the Mariners dodged a bullet when Byrnes drew a walk to keep the inning alive for the .156-hitting Moore, but then the best pinch-hitter available to replace the rookie catcher was the .217-hitting Griffey.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had lefty Matt Thornton ready in the bullpen, but Jenks said “I got him!” in a mound conference and was left in to face Griffey. Jenks may have known Griffey has done little more than ground the ball to second base the past week and was able to strike him out rather easily to end the game.
“It was a little tough today,” Wakamatsu said of his pinch-hitting options. “Milton (Bradley) ran today. He still felt it (his calf injury). It’s one of those situations, do you risk pinch-hitting at the end there? Wet field and all that and setting him back. And we decided not to do it at that point. But we’re still hoping we can get him in there Monday.”
About the only positive news was another strong effort by southpaw Vargas, who held his own against a lineup laden with right-handed power.
“Obviously, we’ve seen them hit some home runs in some big situations the last couple of days,” Vargas said. “But it’s not something I’m trying to pitch around. We’re just going with the game plan and attacking down in the strike zone.”
The latest outing by Vargas has clinched him a spot in the rotation and means relegation to the bullpen for Ian Snell once Cliff Lee returns later this week. Lee’s return can’t come soon enough for Wakamatsu, who hopes to have the rest of his regulars firing on all cylinders by then as well.
“We need to get some guys back,” he said.