Seattle Mariners

Heart of order beats softly

ANAHEIM, Calif. – That hole in the heart of their lineup didn’t stop the Seattle Mariners from winning 12 of their first 18 games, although it certainly helped them lose the 19th.

Manager Don Wakamatsu’s April plan was built on patience, and he’s not about to make wholesale lineup changes.

Still, the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters in the order – Ken Griffey Jr. and Adrian Beltre – haven’t hit much, and when they did no damage again on Sunday, the Los Angeles Angels avoided a series sweep by beating the Mariners, 8-0.

“This team is doing pretty well without me hitting,” Beltre said. “I have confidence in myself, and I’ll come around. I’m just glad we’re winning games.”

Jarrod Washburn pitched into the sixth inning and gave up at least one run in five of those, and Jered Weaver and the Angels bullpen never allowed the Mariners to put more than one man on the bases in any inning after the first.

“I’m a contact pitcher, and I pitch to contact,” Washburn said. “Today, that contact was a little more solid than I’d have liked. I just didn’t have consistent command.”

The scoring chances were few, and neither Junior nor Beltre displayed the middle of the lineup power or production that earned them their spots in the order. Beltre went 3-for-12 in this series with three RBI. Griffey went 3-for-12 with one RBI.

Yes, the Mariners still took two of the three games, but there’s an early-season issue.

The Mariners have shown the ability to manufacture runs, to add on to a lead or cut down a deficit with bunts, ground balls – whatever it takes. That’s no substitute for heart-of-the order production.

Griffey at 39 is batting .192 with three RBI in 15 games, although he’s shown the patience not to chase pitches out of the strike zone and has walked a team-high 12 times – twice on Sunday.

Beltre at 30 is in the final year of a contract and batting .176 with nine RBI in 18 games.

“I don’t see many pitches to drive,” Griffey said, “but that’s nothing new. I had one today and popped it straight up. I walked twice, and everybody in this clubhouse has faith that when I walk, the guy behind me (Beltre) can hurt the other team.

“It’s early. Everybody is anxious at times, everybody has a little slump here and there. We’ve got to be patient, as a team and as players. It’ll come around. I promise you, Adrian and I will be having fun at some point soon.”

Can Wakamatsu wait?

“I don’t have many options,” the manager said. “The biggest thing you want is consistent quality at-bats, and we haven’t been real consistent in the middle of the order. What’s our best heart of the order – Griffey, Branyan, Beltre, Sweeney?

“Probably one game in Chicago, I’ll sit Endy (Chavez) down, play Junior in left field and get all those guys in the game. But that’s not easy to do.”

It’s also not easy to complain about, given Seattle’s 12-7 record, and Griffey and Beltre were hardly the only guys who didn’t do much on Sunday, when the Mariners piled up five hits.

One of those was an Ichiro Suzuki bunt. Another was a pop fly lost in the sun that fell for a hit for Jose Lopez. With runners in scoring position, the Mariners went 0-for-3 and never got a man as far as third base.

“Our best shot was probably in the first inning and we didn’t break through,” Wakamatsu said. “After that Weaver just got better and better.”

Ah, the first.

With two outs, Griffey drew a walk and Beltre singled him to second. That brought up Branyan, who’d batted .628 in the first two games, with two home runs. This time, he worked the count to 3-2 and – on a high fastball up near his shoulders – struck out.

The next time Seattle put two men on base in the same inning was the ninth. They didn’t score then, either.

Washburn gamely went after the Angels without run support, but was gradually put away by a relentless Angels attack. There was a two-run home run by Howie Kendrick in the second inning, and from the there, the game just slid away.

“The worst was with two outs (in the third inning), walking Gary Matthews Jr.,” Washburn said. “That’s what my command was like today. For two, three batters I had it, then for two I wouldn’t have it.”

After Matthews walked, Bobby Abreu doubled him home to make it 3-0.

“We never got the chance to pressure them,” Wakamatsu said.

Beltre dressed slowly afterward, patiently answering questions.

“So far, the team hasn’t needed me that much,” he said. “I’ve struggled before and come out of it, so I’m not frustrated. We’re going to have our fun. We’re going to hit, we just haven’t yet.”