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Seattle Mariners

M’s leave Japan 1-1 when offense struggles

Thu., March 29, 2012, 3:38 p.m.

TOKYO — Ichiro Suzuki came up empty in the finale of a two-game trip to Japan, and so did the Seattle Mariners.

The Japanese star went 0 for 4 and the Mariners wasted a seventh-inning lead in a 4-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Thursday night that left them with a season-opening split.

Bartolo Colon (1-0) and Grant Balfour combined on a three-hitter, with Seattle getting its only run on Justin Smoak’s seventh-inning homer.

“We couldn’t get guys on base,” Smoak said.

A day after getting four hits in his debut in the No. 3 hole, during a 3-1 win, Ichiro grounded out in the first and ninth innings, took a called third strike in the fourth and flied out in the sixth. He excited the crowd of 43,279 in the fifth with a leaping catch up against the wall in right to take away a hit from Kurt Suzuki.

Jason Vargas allowed one run and two hits in 6 1-3 innings, quite a turnabout from spring training, where he had a 12.46 ERA in three starts.

Staked to a 1-0 lead, Vargas walked Coco Crisp opening the seventh. After Jonny Gomes flied out, Seattle manager Eric Wedge removed Vargas after 85 pitches.

Shawn Kelley (0-1) got Kurt Suzuki to bounce into a forceout for the second out, but Yoenis Cespedes put Oakland ahead 2-1 with his first major league home run. George Sherrill came in, and four pitches later Josh Reddick homered for a 3-1 lead.

“We didn’t execute pitches. We were one pitch away from being through that inning,” Wedge said. “With the matchups we had we felt that was the right time to get him out of there. He had been through the lineup a couple of times, so we felt it was the right move. Kelley just hung a slider to Cespedes.”

Both teams now head back to U.S., with the Mariners resuming spring training games in Arizona on Saturday and Oakland playing exhibition games in California. They go back to games that count on April 6, when the Mariners start a two-game series at the A’s that is followed by a rare Sunday day off.

Other big league teams start play April 4, when the renamed Miami Marlins open their new ballpark against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Cespedes, who hit .458 with two homers and five RBIs for Cuba at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, defected from Cuba last summer and agreed in February to a $36 million, four-year contract with the A’s, who opted not to sign Hideki Matsui.

He went 1 for 3 with a double against Felix Hernandez and two strikeouts in his big league debut. A day later, Cespedes moved up one notch to sixth in the batting order and was 1 for 3 with one whiff.

“They tried to throw me sliders every at-bat, so I had to adjust to hit the ball,” Cespedes said. “It was great to hit a home run here for the Japanese fans.”

Oakland manager Bob Melvin said Cespedes has been showing steady improvement.

“He’s getting more and more comfortable every day,” Melvin said. “The challenges he faces on the field are probably the easiest for him. He’s been dropped into a situation that is difficult both on and off the field.”

Jonny Gomes hit his first Oakland home run in the eighth off Steve Delabar, and Grant Balfour pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save, his first since becoming the A’s closer.

Colon, the 2005 A.L. Cy Young Award winner, started 8-6 for the Yankees last year before slumping to an 0-4 record in his final 10 starts. The 38-year-old, Oakland’s oldest starting pitcher since 41-year-old Tom Candiotti in 1999, struck out six and walked one.

“I mixed my pitches well,” he said. “I tried to go inside with my two-seamer and outside with my fastball.

MLB and the players’ association used series to assist rebuilding in Japan following last year’s earthquake and tsunami. A group of players and coaches traveled to the disaster zone on Tuesday to conduct a baseball clinic.

“It was fun to come over here and see a different culture and how they play baseball here,” Smoak he said.

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