MINNEAPOLIS – At least the long-dormant Mariners offense finally woke up in time to make a game out of this one.
Unfortunately for Seattle, the much-anticipated revival of its bats coincided with more flat-lining by a pitching staff getting worse by the day.
Felix Hernandez became the latest Mariners starter to fail to last even five innings, getting bounced four frames into a 9-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night.
Hernandez gave up back-to-back home runs in the third inning to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and was only saved from a third consecutive long ball by a running catch at the wall in center by Franklin Gutierrez. One inning later, Hernandez yielded two more runs, only one of them earned after third baseman Adrian Beltre threw a ball away at first base.
The Seattle training staff visited Hernandez on the mound in that fourth inning. Hernandez has been hampered by a sore ankle since opening day here a month ago, but insisted he was fine and was allowed to finish the inning.
He was replaced in the fifth by Sean White, who surrendered a towering, three-run homer to left field by Michael Cuddyer that broke open what had been a 6-5 game.
The Mariners lost their sixth in a row and fell below .500 (15-16) for the first time since they began the season 1-2 in this building. About the only positive sign for the team was a sustained offensive spark, ignited by Beltre, who hit his first homer of the season off reliever Matt Guerrier in the eighth to go with an earlier double and a single.
A crowd of 29,552 at the Metrodome seemed to sense the Mariners might get blown out early yet again as left fielder Wladimir Balentien lost a routine ball against the white-dome roof in the first inning and had it drop in for a double.
A single and a Mauer double later, the Mariners trailed 2-0, and the gap soon doubled with the third-inning home runs.
But the Mariners’ offense finally woke up in the fourth inning as Twins starter Francisco Liriano, who had retired the first nine batters faced, hit Ichiro Suzuki with a pitch to open the frame. Mike Sweeney then launched a two-run homer to left field – snapping a streak of 12 consecutive scoreless innings by Seattle.
Later that inning, a Kenji Johjima single cut the lead to 4-3. But in keeping with a recent trend of poor pitch selection by the Mariners, the rally ended with the bases loaded when Yuniesky Betancourt offered at the first pitch and popped out to shortstop.
Hernandez and Beltre gave two runs back in the bottom of the inning on a night where the Mariners seemed ready to compete, but couldn’t quite put it all together. Seattle, down by four, had two on with one out in the sixth inning when Betancourt took the first pitch, then swung at the next one and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
Seattle had scored just two runs in the previous 30 innings before Sweeney went deep. Among the other encouraging signs for the offense were run-scoring doubles by Jose Lopez and Beltre in the fifth inning to cut the Twins’ lead to 6-5 and help finish Liriano’s night after just five frames.
Hernandez was the third Seattle starter in four games to fail to make it through five innings.
Silva out, Morrow in
The Mariners placed struggling starter Carlos Silva on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and activated closer Brandon Morrow from the DL. The 30-year-old Silva is 1-3 with an 8.48 ERA in six starts.
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