Mariners struggle to produce runs

RAYS 3, MARINERS 1: Seattle outhits Tampa Bay, 9-3, but fails to hit with a runner in scoring position

larry.larue@thenewstribune.comMay 2, 2012 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The math didn’t work, not when the Seattle Mariners had three times the hits, one-third of the runs, and lost to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, 3-1.

“I felt like I pitched a good game,” said Hector Noesi, who allowed three hits in six innings. “I’m learning every time out.”

The first inning beat Noesi – that and the where-did-you-hide-it-tonight? Mariners offense. Two walks, a triple and a sacrifice fly, Tampa Bay broke on top, 2-0.

That was one more than the Mariners would produce in the entire game.

“We had nine hits, we had 10 the other night, we’re getting men on base,” manager Eric Wedge said. “That’s a positive. To be effective, we’ve got to finish innings off.

“We’re striking out too often right now, We’ve got to take control of our at-bats, not leave it to the umpires.”

In 35 at-bats, Mariners hitters struck out 12 times.

It was another new lineup – this one without Chone Figgins, without the injured Miguel Olivo. And it didn’t matter.

Since winning four games in a row, the Mariners have played four games, lost each one and scored all of five times.

“When things aren’t going well, there comes a time when you have to make it happen,” Wedge said. “We’re fighting through at-bats, we’re getting men on base …”

Bottom line?

“Do something,” Wedge said.

The Mariners are trying.

Jesus Montero, the rookie catcher who figures to play more behind the plate in the absence of Olivo, started this game and went 4-for-4 – three singles and a double.

One of the singles hit the center-field wall on a line near the 404-foot mark, banging back to outfielder B.J. Upton so quickly Montero had no choice but to stop at first.

Great night? It was the first four-hit game of his career.

Montero didn’t score. Didn’t drive a run in.

“We didn’t win,” he said. “I hope I can help us win (today).”

Ichiro Suzuki had another two hits, a single and a double, and not only pulled his average above .300 (.302) but also made a little history. The hits gave him 2,460 in his career, matching Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.

If you’re counting, that puts Ichiro in a tie for 104th place on baseball’s all-time hit list.

He didn’t score a run or drive one in, either.

The lone Mariners run came in the fourth inning, with the Rays leading 3-0. Michael Saunders hammered his fourth home run of the season off left-hander Matt Moore.

After that, the Mariners managed five more hits – twice getting two in an inning – but no more runs.

Which pushed them to a startling statistic: In their past four games, the team is a combined 0-for-30 with runners in scoring position.

“Am I frustrated? Heck, I’m up there batting cleanup, so I’m at bat with runners in scoring position a lot,” Justin Smoak said. “When you don’t get those runners in, you don’t win games.

“Part of the game is grinding it out when things go bad. We’re trying. I’m trying.”

After an 0-for-4 game, Smoak was left with a .190 batting average. Seattle is 9-12 in games Smoak bats fourth – 2-2 in the four games someone else did.

“We’re getting guys on base, we’re just not getting the big hit,” Kyle Seager said. “You’ve just got to keep swinging it.”

For the first time in his short career, Seager came up against an exaggerated infield shift Tuesday – the Tampa Bay infield put three men to the right of second base.

“I’ve never seen that against me before,” Seager said. “If you think about it, it gets in your head. I just took my normal approach.”

And got one hit in four at-bats.

Seattle’s pitching was good enough to win. Hold an American League team to three runs in its home park, that’s a winnable game.

Noesi’s minor control problem in the first inning was, he said, more mental than mechanical, and he corrected it quickly. Relievers Steve Delabar and Charlie Furbush shut the Rays down in relief.

“Noesi has a lot to learn, but he gave us six good innings and we wanted him to leave on a high note,” Wedge said. “We’re trying to help him build confidence. I didn’t want to leave him out there one batter too long.”

Wedge was asked about another statistic: In games when he is catching, Montero is 13-for-24 – a .542 average.

“I think that’s true with most players, they do better when they play rather than DH (designated hitter),” Wedge said. “It takes a special guy to be able to go out there and DH, not sit on the bench and dissect every at-bat.”

larry.larue@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners Twitter: @LarryLaRue

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