May 4, 2012 in Sports

Rays hand Seattle sixth straight setback

Larry Stone Seattle Times
Associated Press photo

Mariners’ Michael Saunders flips his bat after striking out against Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann.
(Full-size photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The term that manager Eric Wedge kept using after Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Mariners’ sixth straight defeat, was “getting over the hump.”

He sees a young team that lost four games by a total of five runs against a strong Rays ballclub as being on the verge of competing against the game’s best.

But he’s also realistic enough to know they are having too many maddening breakdowns at key junctures.

The upshot is that some changes could be in the wind for the Mariners. The obvious focus is on the leadoff spot, where Chone Figgins is mired in a slump that has seen his average drop to .189 after Thursday’s 0-for-4. Figgins is hitless in his past 19 at-bats and was 4 for 31 (.129) on the 10-game trip. He has struck out 28 times in 95 at-bats.

“It’s tough to produce in the middle when you’re not doing what you need to do up top,” Wedge said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’re a month into this now in a few more days. We’ll continue to look at everything, like we always do.”

Certainly, Figgins’ continued presence in the leadoff spot is in jeopardy. Whether the Mariners would cut Figgins – who is still owed the remainder of $9 million this year, plus $8 million next year – is becoming a pertinent question.

Figgins said he feels “great” at the plate.

“I’m taking some aggressive hacks. I’m just not having anything to show for it,” he said. “Sometimes it gets me in trouble, being too aggressive, going out of the zone.”

The last two nights, Figgins has faced two starting pitchers, James Shields and Jeff Niemann, against whom he had a career .419 average (18 for 43) and still couldn’t get a hit.

Struggling shortstop Brendan Ryan, whose average has dropped to .125 with a 0-for-26 slump, was on the bench Thursday. Wedge said the team needs to get him going.

“He’s taken away more runs at shortstop than anyone in the game,” he said. “That’s real. You can’t get away from that. With what we saw this spring from him, what we saw at times in the past year, that’s real, too, offensively. If you get a guy that can defend himself at home plate, and just be even borderline average, you have a championship-level shortstop.”

The Mariners scored two runs in the secondon a ground out by Mike Carp and a single by Justin Smoak, ending a streak of 13 straight runs scored by the M’s via homers.

But Kevin Millwood couldn’t hold the lead, giving up four runs in the bottom of the inning, runs that held up.

Rays 4, Mariners 3

Figgins lf 400001.189
Ackley 2b 411001.231
I.Suzuki rf 401100.310
Seager 3b 310012.289
Jaso c 412000.318
Carp dh 401101.100
Smoak 1b 301111.189
M.Saunders cf 400002.229
Kawasaki ss 301000.214
Totals 3337328
De.Jennings cf 401200.257
C.Pena 1b 300011.261
Joyce rf-lf 300010.282
Scott dh 401001.274
Allen lf 300002.056
Zobrist rf 100000.198
Rhymes 2b 411000.375
Keppinger 3b 212210.298
E.Johnson pr-ss 100000.143
Gimenez c 311001.258
S.Rodriguez ss-3b 311001.194
Totals 3147436
Seattle 020010000—370
Tampa Bay 04000000x—471

E—S.Rodriguez (2). LOB—Seattle 5, Tampa Bay 6. 2B—Ackley (7), I.Suzuki (6), Jaso 2 (3). 3B—De.Jennings (2). HR—Keppinger (2). RBIs—I.Suzuki (10), Carp (1), Smoak (10), De.Jennings 2 (11), Keppinger 2 (6). SB—Ackley (2), Joyce (1), E.Johnson (3). RLSP—Seattle 4, Tampa Bay 4. RISP—Seattle 2 for 9; Tampa Bay 1 for 6. RMU—Carp. GIDP—M.Saunders 2. DP—Tampa Bay 2.

Millwood L,0-3 61/3744245.34
Luetge 12/3000120.00
Niemann W,2-3 52/3733254.05
McGee H,2 21/3000032.35
Rodney S,9-9 1000000.73

IRS—McGee 1-0. WP—McGee. T—2:57. A—11,575 (34,078).

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