NEW YORK – When he saw hitting coach Alan Cockrell struggling with frustration a few weeks ago, Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu took him aside and told him to change his perspective.
“You keep expecting these guys to score five runs a night, so you’re constantly frustrated when they don’t,” Wakamatsu told him. “Start thinking they’ll score one run a night – and if they get more than that, you’ll feel like you’re getting more accomplished.”
Cockrell has felt better. But that Seattle offense ... ?
It scored twice Wednesday in a 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees, yet another game where the Mariners scrambled back to tie twice but never led.
“Andy Pettitte was on tonight,” Jarrod Washburn said. “He out-pitched me.”
In seven innings, Washburn was touched for three home runs, two solo shots and a back-breaking two-run shot from Alex Rodriguez that snapped a 2-2 tie.
“Every guy in their lineup is capable of hitting a home run, and in a hitter-friendly ballpark they’re even tougher,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Jarrod pitched a heck of a game. The pitch to Alex was a change-up down.
“There aren’t many players that can hit that pitch over the center field fence. Alex is one of them.”
The Mariners’ two runs? A two-out RBI single from Wladimir Balentien, who was then picked off first base, and a home run from Ken Griffey Jr., his 10th of the season.
Using his new point of view, Cockrell could have been pleased to see two runs scored. He wasn’t. He won’t be. But he has little choice.
The need to address the Seattle offense – what it’s capable of, what it needs – seems to be growing daily. A team that is 29-10 when it scores four runs or more, the Mariners have scored three runs or fewer 37 times this season, nearly half their 77 games.
In those, the Mariners are 10-27.
“Those numbers aren’t good, but we could just as easily win 25 of those games in the second half,” Griffey said. “Sometimes guys on this team just want it a little too much. They know what they’re supposed to do – get the man over, get the run home. But you try too hard, you swing at bad pitches and you don’t get the job done.”
What’s been a hindrance all season now threatens to pull the Mariners back from the brink of contention.
Against a team like the Yankees, who can score quickly and in bunches, the Mariners lineup not only isn’t very strong, it’s not deep. Consider the top of the Seattle batting order a little short?
Look at the bottom four hitters Tuesday:
Left fielder Balentien is batting .225 with three home runs and 10 RBI.
Third baseman Chris Woodward has played only six games and is batting .333.
Catcher Rob Johnson is batting .187 with no home runs and 13 RBI.
Shortstop Ronny Cedeño is batting .136 with three home runs and eight RBI.
New York’s No. 6 hitter, Robinon Cano, had more home runs (12) and RBI (42) than the last four hitters in Seattle’s lineup combined. So did the No. 7 hitter, Nick Swisher (14 and 39).
Asked to win a game against the Yankees in which his team scored twice, Washburn wasn’t up to it. Not many pitchers have been.
“Tough lineup, patient hitters who go deep in counts,” Washburn said. “I made three mistakes tonight, really. Two solo home runs that wouldn’t have beaten me, and then the mistake that Alex hit out.
“It was a pretty good pitch to most guys, but not to him. He’s a great low-ball hitter. If I’d hung that pitch at his waist, we might still be playing. Around his knees, he made me pay.”
As for giving Washburn and the rest of the pitching staff more support, this offense may not have much more to give.
With the lineup he started Wednesday, this was Wakamatsu’s bench: outfielder Ryan Langerhans, who hasn’t played a big-league game this season; infielder Josh Wilson, released by the 34-42 Padres last week; catcher Kenji Johjima, fresh off the disabled list and batting .250; designated hitter Mike Sweeney, hitting .263 with 15 RBI in 35 games; and Mike Carp, who’s had eight big-league at-bats.
The reality is, the Mariners have no place to play Carp, no thought of playing Wilson with any regularity. Balentien has had prolonged opportunities in two seasons, for two general managers and two managers and hasn’t shown the ability to hit for average, power or production.
Cedeño and Johnson are in the lineup because of their defensive skills, not their bats, and the Mariners don’t seem to think any of their minor league outfielders, third basemen, catchers or middle infielders are ready to play.
All that, of course, is why the Mariners fired their previous GM and his manager and coaching staff. In not quite half a season, GM Jack Zduriencik and Wakamatsu have done wonders with what they inherited.
With what they have, however, it’s increasingly difficult to see them staying with the big boys.