SEATTLE — It’s perversely fitting that Don Wakamatsu returns to Safeco Field tonight just in time to witness a Mariners team in free fall.
Wakamatsu, now the bench coach of the Toronto Blue Jays, last year endured four-plus months of the sort of frustrating, offense-challenged baseball that once again envelops the team.
On Sunday, the Mariners suffered their seventh straight loss, falling 6-4 to the Cleveland Indians despite a late rally and a brilliant bullpen effort in support of struggling starter Erik Bedard.
The Mariners got homers from Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans, equaling the team’s total number of longballs in the previous eight games. But in front of a restless crowd of 21,128, they had just three other hits in the game, and are batting .197 during the losing streak, .215 overall.
“We’re going to be a better hitting club than what you’re seeing right now,” manager Eric Wedge said. “I’ve said it all along, and I feel that.”
Wedge, the permanent replacement for the fired Wakamatsu, also remains steadfast in his belief that the Mariners will persevere through their tough start.
“We’re going through a tough stretch right now,” Wedge said. “The teams we’re playing, they’re going to have their share of them, too, and ultimately you find out a lot about yourselves when you do go through these stretches.”
Bedard, meanwhile, sputtered in his continued comeback from three shoulder operations, yielding 10 hits and six runs in four innings. He gave up a pair of homers – by ex-Mariners Jack Hannahan and Asdrubal Cabrera – as the torrid Indians, off to their best start since 2002, won for the seventh straight time.
In two starts, Bedard has given up four homers and has a 9.00 earned-run average, but the Mariners remain encouraged by what Wedge termed his “live arm.” Bedard says his shoulder still feels good and he’s working toward more consistency.
“It’s been a year and half since I’ve thrown, so it might take awhile,” Bedard said. “I’m working hard and trying to get back as quick as I can.”
Said Wedge: “I don’t think it’s a step back. I think it’s part of him getting back on the mound, being more comfortable and just settling in. I have a lot of respect for the fact the guy has not been out there for a long time, and he’s been through a lot the last couple of years.”
After Bedard departed, relievers David Pauley, Jamey Wright and Brandon League completely shut down the Indians, blanking them on one hit over the final five innings. Pauley held the Indians hitless in three perfect innings.
The Mariners, fielding a lineup without Milton Bradley, Brendan Ryan or Miguel Olivo – and with Adam Kennedy in the No. 3 hole – were stymied through six innings by Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin.
They did push across a run in the fourth when Chone Figgins led off with his first walk of the season. He moved to third on Kennedy’s single and scored on Justin Smoak’s sacrifice fly.
Then in the seventh Langerhans launched a two-run homer off Tomlin – his second of the season, most on the team – and Saunders connected off reliever Chad Durbin.
But after a single by Chris Gimenez, Ichiro Suzuki lined out to center, and the Mariners didn’t get another base runner. Gimenez hopes the flurry in the seventh will be a launching point.
“We were talking about that,” he said. “Hitting’s contagious. We might be in a rut right now, but we have some good things coming. Putting at-bats like that together will be a big help toward getting our confidence back and getting on a roll.”
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