May 17, 2012 in Sports

Mariners’ bullpen suffers meltdown

Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Starter Hector Noesi pitched well into the seventh inning for Seattle on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

CLEVELAND — Moments after perhaps the toughest defeat all season, Brendan Ryan echoed his manager in saying it’s time for the Mariners to learn how to win games.

Ryan has been harsh on himself all year with his batting average hovering around .150, but says the team can’t simply keep using youth as an excuse for giving away wins. And that’s exactly what happened in this 6-5 loss in 11 innings Thursday to the Cleveland Indians in a contest the Mariners seemed to refuse to claim all day long.

Brandon League got the official goat horns, walking three batters and serving up the tying hit to Asdrubal Cabrera and walkoff single to Carlos Santana to turn a lead into a blown save and a loss. But the reality is, the Mariners helped themselves lose much earlier by not capitalizing on numerous chances to put things into cruise control.

“We had some chances to kind of blow it open there,” Ryan said. “We’re just kind of scratching one out. We need to get a four or five-run inning, get ahead. Be up by four or five early and just step on their throat

“We’re just not putting games away. It just gets old being a young team and having growing pains and all that stuff. At some point we’ve got to figure it out and figure out how to close a game out. And again, that might be in the second inning.”

Indeed, this sixth loss in seven games on the trip, played in front of 12,894 at Progressive Field, should have been settled long before Jose Lopez came back to haunt his former team. Lopez hit a tying three-run homer in the eighth off Steve Delabar to knot the game 4-4 and ruin a strong outing by Hector Noesi.

League then walked Lopez to lead off the 11th, ahead 5-4, and watched him come around to score on Cabrera’s single to right. After his third walk loaded the bases, League went full count to Santana, who then ripped a single to ignite a wild celebration by the home side.

The Mariners had retaken the lead in the top of the 11th. Ryan led off with a single and was forced out on a grounder by Dustin Ackley, who scored on a double by Michael Saunders.

Indians starter Zach McAllister had trouble throwing strikes early and trailed 2-0 by the fifth inning despite allowing only one hit, a bloop single. But the Mariners couldn’t make him pay when they had to.

Even when Ryan — who reached base four times on two singles and two walks — made it a 4-0 game in the sixth, one got the feeling the Mariners were letting the Indians hang around too much. Ryan referenced that after the game, pointing to how the Detroit Tigers had let the Mariners stay in a 2-0 game at Safeco Field last week before Seattle scored three in the ninth.

“We’re really not giving the bullpen much room for error,” he said.

The bullpen didn’t leave itself much room either after Noesi left in the seventh with a 4-1 lead. Seattle walked the leadoff batter three times in the game, including the eighth when Delabar put Santana on.

With two out, Delabar walked former Mariners first baseman Casey Kotchman, then fell behind 2-0 to Lopez.

“We wanted to work him down and away,” Delabar said. “I tried to stay down there, but the ball got up and he put some good wood on it.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge was visibly irritated after the game by all the free passes. The Mariners walked eight batters, five by the bullpen.

“We gave them that game,” Wedge said. “We had a 4-1 lead. Walks killed us early when we went to the bullpen and walks killed us late. This team is going to have to understand, when you’re in a position to win ballgames, you’ve got to finish off and win ballgames.”

The Mariners went 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position, with Ichiro going 0 for 4 in such situations out of the No. 3 spot in the order. Ichiro was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position in the two losses here and is 7 for 41 (.175) for the season.

Wedge has said the team needs more out of Ichiro from the No. 3 spot and repeated that assertion after the game. He might also need to take a more in-depth look at League, who suffered his third blown save in 11 opportunities with some of the worst control he’s ever had.

“My control was just absolutely unacceptable today,” League said. “I can’t remember the last time I walked three guys in a third of an inning. I was handing out free passes and when I did get the ball down, it was right down the middle.”

League will look at video to see whether there is a “major” mechanical issue causing his pitches to go awry, or just something that requires minor tinkering. The same can be said for the team, which likely needs some moves in the bullpen and the batting order to keep these losses from piling up.

“You just hate to lose a game like this,” League said.

“We wanted to work him down and away,” Delabar said. “I tried to stay down there, but the ball got up and he put some good wood on it.”


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