John McGrath: Quiet bats costing Mariners now, but don’t panic just yet

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comApril 14, 2014 

His deep, scratchy voice made him sound like he was grumbling, but Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon wasn’t at all in a sour mood Sunday after his team lost to the Oakland A’s.

Not all defeats are equal. When a closer walks the first two batters in the ninth and blows a save, for instance, the emotional fallout can linger for days.

There will not be any emotional fallout from the homestand finale at Safeco Field, where the Mariners proved it was possible to play baseball for 2 hours and 44 minutes and do nothing worthy of remembrance.

Veteran starting pitcher Chris Young didn’t miss any bats in his Seattle debut, but he gave the Mariners a chance to win, or, more accurately, a chance to remain in a scoreless tie through seven innings.

But there was never much of a chance to win because the Mariners, who were held to three singles, advanced a runner as far as third base only once against lefty Scott Kazmir and a bullpen committee.

“Listen, when you get only two or three hits, nobody looks good,” McClendon said after the 3-0 defeat. “There’s not a lot you can do when a guy has command of all of his pitches.”

Perhaps, but Kazmir’s dominant work followed a Saturday night defeat that found the Mariners similarly handcuffed by starter Sonny Gray. Over the last 21 innings, they’ve scored one run.

The season is young, but it seems as if that 26-run barrage against the Angels in the opening series happened weeks ago.

No conclusive evaluations can be made yet, so don’t read too much into the fact the six men who have served as outfielders have combined for two home runs, or that the Mariners are hitting .236 as a team.

But some trends are lingering from last season, when third baseman Kyle Seager took a nosedive that lasted two months.

Since improving his batting average to .300 on August 2, Seager is hitting .155. Outfielder Logan Morrison, seen as a potential power hitter but considered a disappointment in Miami — the Marlins traded him for reliever Carter Capps last winter — has three hits, all singles, in 19 at-bats.

Robinson Cano, who is hitting .333 and essentially resembling the perennial All-Star second baseman he was in New York, was responsible for two of the Mariners’ three singles Sunday — but Cano was obtained to bat third and deliver monster offensive numbers.

Cano’s next home run in 2014 will be his first.

“Are you concerned,” McClendon was asked, “about the offense?”

“I was today,” he answered. “But I won’t be tomorrow. We’ll be just fine.”

At least the Mariners, who begin a seven-day trip Monday night in Texas, are going to a favorable place for hitters. Aside from Yu Darvish, who’ll face Felix Hernandez on Wednesday in a don’t-miss duel of aces, the Rangers’ starting pitching staff is unsettled.

Another reason for optimism: The Mariners don’t face Oakland again until May 5. Between the A’s laborious approach at the plate and the tendency of manager Bob Melvin to micromanage his bullpen — he used four relievers Sunday, in a three-hit shutout — Oakland is a difficult team to watch, much less have to play six times out of the gate.

The two games the Mariners won were Hernandez masterpieces, and even then the A’s turned them into molar-grinders that gave the victors more a sense of survival than satisfaction.

Oakland doesn’t give in and doesn’t give up, which is why the A’s are two-time defending division champions and a solid bet for a three-peat.

Fortunately, not all opponents are the A’s. Oakland’s ability to keep the Mariners in check almost lulled everybody in the Safeco Field crowd to sleep. Well, almost everybody.

Around the eighth inning or so, one fan in the upper deck behind home plate made a plaintive moan whenever a Mariners batter stood at the plate.

“Get a hit!” the guy pleaded in a tone that was so obnoxiously distracting, I fear I’ll still have nightmares about it five years from now.

It wasn’t clever. It wasn’t funny. It was just stupid.

“GET ... A ... HIT!”

But I’ve got to admit, the jerk was shouting what the rest of the crowd was thinking.

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