MINNEAPOLIS – Trying to breathe life into a team with a four-game losing streak, Don Wakamatsu tried a hit-and-run in the first inning, and when that failed, he called for a straight steal.
The Seattle Mariners got that stolen base, the sixth for Endy Chavez, but not the run they’d hoped it would produce.
Nothing they did Friday led to a run, and previously winless Scott Baker and the Minnesota Twins pushed the Mariners losing streak to five games with an 11-0 victory that continued Seattle’s offensive woes.
“Everybody is trying to do it all by themselves,” first baseman Russell Branyan said. “You do that, it has the opposite effect. You get in bad counts – 0-1, 0-2 – and no one hits well in those.”
Not only couldn’t the Mariners score, they couldn’t seem to stop the Twins.
Two Minnesota runs in the first inning, three in the second, and before they came to bat for the third time the Mariners were in no position to be stealing bases – not down by five.
And when Chris Jakubauskas, then Miguel Batista, were burned by a flurry of hits and home runs mid-game, that five run deficit looked downright narrow by comparision.
“We can’t be too proud of that game,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ve got to get production from the middle of our lineup, we’ve got to give ourselves a chance. Get a lead, give the pitchers a breather.”
While the Mariners put up zero after zero on the scoreboard against Baker, the ninth hitter in the Twins lineup – shortstop Brenden Harris – had a three-run home run. Joe Mauer had a home run and two RBI. Justin Morneau a home run and two RBI.
While none of that was in Seattle’s game plan, Mauer and Morneau have made careers bashing American League pitching. The surprise Friday was the pitching of Baker.
In his previous four starts, he hadn’t lasted past the sixth inning, and had lost each game. Over 20 innings, Baker had given up 21 runs. His earned run average was 9.15.
If ever there was a pitcher the Mariners needed to face, Baker figured high on the list. They had scored just twice in 18 innings in Kansas City, only four times in their previous three 27 innings.
But Baker shut out the Mariners on five hits over seven innings, his first shutout of any kind since 2007.
“They gave him the kind of breather I’m talking about,” Wakamatsu said. “He was 5-0 after two innings, and that gave him the chance to just throw strikes and not worry about much else.”
Wakamatsu came out more aggressively than his team. After Chavez singled with one out, Wakamatsu put on the hit-and-run and Jose Lopez fouled the pitch off, then struck out. With two outs and Branyan at the plate, the manager green-lighted his left fielder, and Chavez stole second base.
Branyan struck out.
The Mariners wouldn’t get another man into scoring position until the seventh inning. What they wound up with was their third shutout of the season, in their 30th game.
Jakubauskas, the 30-year-old rookie, took full responsibility for this one, and wasn’t subtle about it.
“I had good stuff, but every time I needed to make a good pitch, I left something over the plate,” he said. “That’s not acceptable. I put us in a hole right away. I just didn’t throw enough quality pitches.
“There was no extra pressure. All I had to do was go out and do my job, and I didn’t.”
Wakamatsu acknowledged that Jakubauskas, forced into the rotation by April injuries, might have his role re-evaluated. At the same time, he has larger fish on the fryer than his No. 5 starter right now.
There’s Carlos Silva.
And there’s his offense. Or lack thereof.
Cleanup hitter Branyan is 1-for-12 in the last three games, and struck out three times Friday. Lopez has one RBI since being moved to third in the lineup last week. Adrian Beltre doesn’t have a home run and Ken Griffey Jr., who has two, has only five RBI.
“No one is really killing the ball right now,” Wakamatsu said.
Griffey said no one should panic just yet, that the team is playing hard and could be one good game away from starting a winning streak.
“We’re falling short, that’s all, and there are days like that for every team,” Griffey said.
Russell said much the same thing.
“Hopefully, in a month, this little stretch is just a blip on the radar,” he said.
If anyone can change it for Seattle, it might be tonight’s starting pitcher, Felix Hernandez. Of course, there’s one thing.
Even Felix figures to need a run to win.