We all know Don Wakamatsu is an unflinching optimist. He can’t help but find the positives in almost any situation. It’s his nature. It’s his personality. He’s not going to change in the face of losses, no matter how many mount.
On Monday night, he praised his team for playing hard in a 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Earlier today Wakamatsu seemed almost apologetic for talking in terms of moral victories, when he knows they won’t lift his team out of first place and people take little solace in them.
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“I know fans don’t want to hear that, but from our standpoint these guys are working as hard as they ever have and we feel like they believe we have a chance to win some games,” he said before Tuesday’s game.
But he didn't need to search for sentiments after the game. The Mariners got their usual solid starting pitching, grabbed a lead, never gave it back and even added to it throughout the game in a decisive 7-1 win.
It was one of the more complete games the Mariners have played in a season that’s seen far too many scoreless innings and surprising mistakes – both mental and physical and too few wins.
On Tuesday night against the American League Central leading Twins, the Mariners looked like the team many hoped and believed they would be before the season -- at least for a night anyway.
What was the difference in this game?
Well, the Mariners got production from two players that were expected to produce, but hadn’t consistently done so for much of this season – Jose Lopez and Chone Figgins.
Lopez, who came in hitting just .234 with two homers and 17 RBI, ripped a two-run homer in the fourth inning to put the Mariners up for good. He later added an RBI single in the seventh inning. Figgins, who was .211 and just .145 from the left side, had two hits both from the left side, including an RBI double and also walked and stole a base.
“We have some guys in our lineup starting to swing the bat much better,” Wakamatsu said.
Apparently Lopez has made some mechanical adjustments in Anaheim and is now has an eight-game hitting streak and is 12-for-30 with 7 runs, 2 homers and 5 RBI during that streak.
Figgins has worked extensively with Alonzo Powell, particularly on the left side, making some adjustments to not be too top-hand heavy.
Wakamatsu also talked about remaining patient with Figgins despite his struggles.
"Everybody wants to talk about moving lineups and changing it here and there," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Again, he's got a track record and it's something you know he's going to come out of, it's just when.
"One thing is you go back in his career and even though it's a limited number of at-bats, he's a .354 hitter in the 2-hole. You can point your fingers all over the place, eventually guys are going to hit. He's going to be a guy in our organization for a long time and he's going to have to hit in that spot as long as Ichi's here."
The run support was big for the Marines, who got yet another solid outing from Jason Vargas. The lefty improved to 4-2 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.82.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire gushed about Vargas ...
“There are two different types of pitching. There are guys that can blow people away with above average stuff and there are guys that know how to pitch. Vargas is one of those guys that knows how to pitch. He knows how to change speeds, knows how to add and subtract and use his breaking ball. We hit some balls hard, but he never gave in to us either. He pitched very well. He did a super job for them. I’m sure they’re very happy with that. That’s pitching. That’s what it’s all about, being able to keep the hitters off balance enough. It doesn’t mean you have to throw it 95 miles per hour. It shows you another reason why this game is so good and so fun to watch because you don’t have to be overpowering to get people out, you have to make pitches.”
Of course, it didn’t start out that way. For the first three innings, Vargas found himself in trouble, giving up walks, going deep into counts, yet finding ways to get out. He has six runners base in the first three innings. But the only run that came across was on Justin Morneau’s line drive home run to right field on a 3-0 count.
But there was a side effect to those early troubles – a rising pitch count. He had thrown more than 60 pitches in those three innings and seemed destined for a five-inning start.
“You kind of know when you are doing it,” Vargas said. “You are throwing a lot of pitches, and getting deep in counts and you see it up on the board obviously.”
However, he stopped that trend and was able to get through to the seventh inning, allowing six hits and one run, while walking three and striking out two.
“They started swinging more and I started to get my two-seam (fastball) over the plate a little bit more.”
Vargas also helped himself. In the fifth inning after giving up a lead-off single to J.J. Hardy, he caught a line drive back to the mound off of Joe Mauer in an act of self-preservation. Had he not gotten his glove in the way, the screaming line drive seemed likely to strike him in the head.
“I saw it,” he said. “It’s the only way I save myself. I’m just glad I got my glove up. I don’t know if I’ve had one that hard, but I’ve had one that close.”
Vargas shook off any fear quickly, getting some revenge against Morneau to ground into an inning ending double play on the very next batter.
“The fifth inning was obviously critical,” Wakamatsu said. “It kept his pitch count in check and allowed him to go two more innings”
It was just another outing from Vargas that Wakamatsu marveled at.
“Vargas was unbelievable, especially the way that game started,” Wakamatsu said. “The big thing with him and (Doug) Fister is when they get in trouble or when they look like they are going to lose it, they have had the ability to battle back and get through it.”
• Minnesota had their season-high 5-game winning streak snapped with today’s loss.
• Starter Nick Blackburn lasted a season-low 3.2 innings, and tied his season-high with 5 ER allowed…first loss since
4/11 at CWS, going 5-0 in 7 starts between the losses (Twins 7-0 in that span).
• Blackburn left the game with Twins losing for the first time this season…4th start this season that he didn’t record a strikeout…Twins lost for only the 2nd time in last 14 games that Blackburn started.
• Delmon Young extended his season-high hitting streak to 5 games…hitting .388 (7x18) during the streak.
• Justin Morneau hit his 12th home run of the season in the 3rd inning (last HR: 5/17 at TOR)…3rd career home run at Safeco Field, but his 1st since 2004…has reached safely in 46 of 50 games played this year…home run was the Twins 4th through the first 2 games of the series.
• Denard Span had hit 8-game hitting streak snapped, going 0x4…during streak hit .433 (13x30).
• Starter Jason Vargas earned his 8th quality start of the season, with all 8 coming in his last 9 starts…won for the first time since 5/9 against LAA, and is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA (8 ER, 28 IP) over his last 5 starts.
• Vargas has allowed only 16 ER over his last 9 starts…is now 4-1, 2.37 ERA (12 ER, 45.2 IP) at Safeco Field this season…3rd straight game that Vargas has thrown 100 pitches…hasn’t thrown less than 90 pitches since his first 2 starts of the season (threw 89 pitches in both outings).
• Seattle starters have tossed at least 7.0 innings in 4 of the last 5 games and 6 of last 8…Mariners are now 2nd in the Majors with 24 starts of at least 7.0 innings, trailing only Tampa Bay (25).
• Chone Figgins extended his hitting streak to 5 games with a single in the 1st…hitting .421 (8x19) during the streak…over last 14 games, hitting .308 (16x52) to raise his average from .182 to .217…recorded his 9th multi-hit game of the season, including 3 straight…hitting .579 (11x19) with HR, 2B, and BB against Blackburn in his career…stole his 11th base of the season in the 7th.
• Jose Lopez hit his 3rd home run of the season in the 4th (last HR: 5/28 at LAA)…2 HR in last 5 games…extended hitting streak to 8 games, batting .400 (12x30) with 7 R, 2 HR and 5 RBI during the streak…recorded his 12th multi-hit games on the season, including 4 of his last 5…tied a career-high with a run scored in each of his last 6 games.
• Eliezer Alfonzo recorded his second straight multi-hit game, going 2x4 with 2 singles…since joining the Mariners on
May 28, hitting .555 (5x9) with 3 R, HR and 4 RBI in 2 starts behind the plate.
• Ichiro extended his hitting streak to 5 games with a single in the 1st…hitting .450 (9x20) during the streak…has recorded hits in 21 of his last 25 games…recorded his majors leading 25th multi-hit game of the season…7th 3-hit game of the season…over last 22 games, batting .396 (36x91).
• The Mariners tied a season-high for hits in an inning with 6 in the 4th (3x, last time: 5/21 vs. SD)…that inning marked the 4th time this season the Mariners have sent 9 batters to the plate (last: 5/21 vs. SD).