KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Knowing the forecast called for thunderstorms, high winds and hail, the Seattle Mariners may have tried too hard to score runs early Thursday night.
It was hard to tell.
A team that doesn’t consistently score no matter the circumstance, the Mariners fell behind by five, got an eighth-inning run and then watched the rains drown out the rest of the Kansas City Royals’ 5-1 win.
“They said it was coming and it came, but the weather wasn’t the story,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Doug Fister gave up three third-inning runs, his sinker tagged for hard ground-ball hits – including a two-run double just inside the first-base line by Alex Gordon – and the Mariners never really threatened until the eighth inning.
“Fister pitched better than his line,” Wedge said. “They weren’t punching him around. He gave us a chance tonight
“We just didn’t get anything going offensively.”
The game began with yet another eye-blink Seattle lineup – journeyman reserve infielder Adam Kennedy batting cleanup and playing designated hitter in place of Jack Cust. Not the ideal No. 4 hitter, he filled in nicely.
It was Kennedy’s fly ball that chased home Chone Figgins for the Mariners’ only run.
Even then, it was unearned.
A team that remains offensively challenged, the Mariners are willing to run, willing to hit-and-run, willing to push the risk-reward envelope at times. Against Kansas City, there simply weren’t opportunities.
Veteran left-hander Bruce Chen, who throws so much junk his pitches get recycled, allowed one Seattle baserunner in the first two innings. In the third, when he gave up a single and the Royals made an error behind him, he got a ground ball from Milton Bradley for the third out.
The Mariners never mounted anything approximating a worrisome rally, nothing that had the Royals back on their heels.
Chen, a 33-year-old Panamanian, made the 295th major league appearance of his career and turned it into his 50th career win. After going five, then six innings in his first two starts of the season, Chen had no trouble pitching through eight against Seattle.
“Chen was throwing strikes and he mixed it up out there,” Wedge said. “He ran the ball in on right-handed hitters, threw his breaking ball to lefties. He pitched a good game.”
Not counting their once-in-a-generation, eight-run comeback against Toronto, the Mariners have gotten to the sixth inning trailing seven times in 2011.
Their record: 0-7.
A team not built to score often has been all but unable to score once it trails, and the lineup has holes no matter who Wedge puts in.
Figgins isn’t hitting .200, DH Jack Cust isn’t hitting .200 and four other regulars – Miguel Olivo, Michael Saunders, Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson – are struggling to stay above .200.
“We’ve got a few veteran guys who, to a man, are pushing to get us over this bump,” Wedge said. “They’re pressing, trying to be the guy who breaks us loose.”
Against Chen, the Mariners managed six hits in 31 at-bats – two of those hits by Ichiro Suzuki – and saw their team average drop to .218. Managing a team that hits like that, or pitching for one, wins become small nuggets on a long road.
Now 0-3, Fister is a case in point. In his three losses the Mariners have scored twice.
“I felt good tonight, but I guess three or four pitches hurt me,” he said. “They capitalized on my mistakes. The rain didn’t bother me. I just left a few pitches up.”
One became Wilson Betemit’s solo home run in the fourth inning. Most of the other seven Kansas City hits were ground balls, not fly balls.
Thirteen games into the 2011 season, the Mariners’ problems don’t seem to be small, and ownership, along with the front office, isn’t going to be able to ignore them for long.
They’re 4-9 and such an uninspired team that – even with Felix Hernandez and rookie Michael Pineda pitching – their three-games series with Toronto at Safeco Field this week produced three of the worst all-time crowds in that ballpark.
Should the team not win two of the remaining three games against the Royals, it’s hard to imagine the three-game series in Seattle against Detroit next week rivaling the crowds the Toronto series drew.
Yes, this is a “transitional” season for the team, but it’s hard to see what the Mariners are transitioning to.
Bradley, Kennedy and Wilson, for instance, likely won’t finish the year in Seattle. Figgins is looking more and more like a player who’s at his worst when it matters most – capable of playing well only once his team is out of the race.
Saunders remains a question mark, Justin Smoak looks better than last season but is far from the kind of hitter around which teams build a franchise. Cust and Ryan, brought in this winter, are not hitting.
At the moment, the Mariners are a bad team, one that’s losing games and fans.