Even the best managerial plans and strategies are only as healthy as the players sent out to execute them.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu had in his mind how the final innings of Tuesday’s game with the Texas Rangers were going to play out – or at least how he wanted them to play out.
But an injury to reliever Shawn Kelley threw a scary and unexpected glitch into those plans, changing everything that the Mariners wanted to do to win yet another extra-inning contest.
Instead of Kelley, one of Seattle’s most consistent relievers, throwing a scoreless 10th inning and the Mariners hopefully winning it in the bottom of the 10th, Wakamatsu was forced to go to Denny Stark for the third consecutive game.
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The Rangers capitalized, scoring six runs against Stark, including a grand slam from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in a 7-2 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
While the second consecutive loss to the Rangers (14-12) stung and dropped Seattle to 15-12 – a half-game ahead of Texas in the AL West – the possible loss of Kelley to what appears to be an abdominal strain may hurt worse than a defeat in which the Mariners’ offense was all but nonexistent.
“We were in that ballgame and had a chance to win, but unfortunately it goes down when Kelley goes down,” Wakamatsu said.
The injury came after Kelley’s third pitch. He dropped to the ground and lay flat on his back in obvious pain. While he was helped of the field, he clutched at his side.
“It’s scary and frustrating at the same time,” catcher Rob Johnson said. “He’s a big guy for us. We need him. He’s been throwing really well, so you’re frustrated.”
It appears that Kelley will go on the disabled list. When asked if Kelley would make the trip to Kansas City, Wakamatsu said, “At this point, I would think not.”
The manager added, “All signs would indicate that this will take a little bit of time to recover.”
Wakamatsu didn’t say who would be called up, but left-hander Garrett Olson was scheduled to start Tuesday night in Salt Lake City for the Rainiers but was scratched before the game, meaning he could be on his way to the Mariners.
As for Stark, Wakamatsu was hoping to avoid using him. He had already thrown two consecutive days – 33 pitches in 12/3 innings. Stark, a former starter, who battled back from two Tommy John surgeries to replace ligaments in his elbow, couldn’t remember the last time he’d thrown in three consecutive games, but shrugged it off.
“I’m not looking to make excuses,” Stark said.
But it isn’t so much an excuse as a matter of fact that the Mariners’ bullpen was taxed from the 15-inning marathon Sunday.
Sean White and Miguel Batista were unavailable and the Mariners were looking to avoid using Jason Vargas, as well as Stark. After using Mark Lowe in the eighth inning and David Aardsma in the ninth, then Kelley getting hurt, Wakamatsu had few choices.
“Stark was the guy we had to go to in an emergency,” Wakamatsu said. “We were just trying to piecemeal it together.”
While Stark maintained he felt good, it’s one thing to feel good and another to feel effective.
“Denny has thrown three days in a row, often times that’s tough,” Johnson said. “Coming after Shawn went down, that’s a tough role to fill.”
While Wakamatsu’s bullpen plans were derailed by Kelley’s injury, there was no way he planned on his team managing just one hit and an unearned run over the first nine innings.
Rangers starter Vicente Padilla allowed one hit – a single to Wladimir Balentien in the fifth inning – and an unearned run in the sixth, after Ian Kinsler’s error, in eight innings.
“He put the ball in our court and said, ‘Here it is, hit it,’ and we couldn’t get anything to fall in,” Mariners first baseman Russell Branyan said.
Mariners starter Erik Bedard was equally impressive, limiting Texas to six hits and one run – a long homer by Nelson Cruz in the seventh inning – while striking out seven in seven innings.
“Padilla was outstanding and we don’t expect anything less from Bedard,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
But Wakamatsu expected something more than one hit in nine innings.
“It’s one of those games that the offense needed to pick up the pitching and it didn’t,” he said.
The Mariners needed pitching from Bedard and the bullpen and some solid defensive play to get the game into extra innings.
“To have one hit and a tie ballgame in the ninth and against that offense,” Wakamatsu said. “That’s something.”
But that something didn’t turn out to be a win.
Seattle finished with three hits, after Branyan and Adrian Betlre hit back-to-back doubles in the bottom of the 10th. But that amounted to a meaningless run in an already lost game.
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