“It’s a constant struggle.”
That’s a little pet phrase starting pitcher Doug Fister likes to use when he describes his attempts to keep the ball down in the strike zone when he is pitching. And it seems so fitting for the Seattle Mariners as a whole.
Obviously it isn’t a marketing phrase, like Mariners Baseball: “It’s a constant struggle.”
With today's loss, it seems to be the perfect description for the team’s mindset as it closes up a seven-game homestand where it went 3-4.
Even on the rare occasions when the Mariners win, it’s rarely easy or clean. It’s a constant struggle at the plate and in the field.
“It’s no secret what we need to do better,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s something we’ve got to continue to attack. We’ve got to stay strong with it. You can’t give into it. You’ve got to continue to believe in yourself and you can’t let it get inside you. You’ve got to stay strong throughout this.”
Sunday’s series finale against Oakland offered perfect examples. The constant struggle that is the Mariners anemic offense was again on full display.
Seattle managed just two runs on eight hits. And the two runs were not the result of any of those eight hits.
Already down 1-0 after the top of the first, the Mariners tied the game as only they can in the bottom of the inning.
Ichiro Suzuki reached on a bunt single and then stole second. A Chone Figgins sacrifice bunt moved Ichiro to third. And Milton Bradley drove him in with a soft grounder. One run scored on a three balls that didn’t travel a combined 100 feet.
The other run was scored in a similar fashion. Michael Saunders reached on an infield single. He advanced to third on Kevin Kouzmanoff’s throw on a routine ground ball and then scored on Ryan Langerhan’s soft ground ball to first.
And those eight hits? Well, they were all singles and led to eight runners left on base. Seattle was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. For the season, the Mariners are hitting .188 with runners in scoring position.
“It’s been happening to us all year,” said second baseman Jack Wilson. “At some point, we have to start finding a way to get those things to fall in and score some runs.
“We had opportunities on and off throughout the course of the ballgame,” Wedge said. “These guys are going to have to figure out a way to fight through whatever they’re going through mentally and fundamentally and finish off innings. That’s the difference in the ballgame.
“That, and making plays when plays need to be made in certain situations.”
The last statement wasn’t meant as a direct shot to at Chone Figgins. But it might have been aimed in his general vicinity.
With the Mariners trailing 3-2 – a workable deficit to overcome even for this team – Figgins committed his third error of the season. With runners at first and second and one out, Conor Jackson hit a routine ground ball to Figgins that would have likely been a sure double play. But he got caught on an in between hop and the ball skidded off his glove into the outfield.
“That’s a play that he makes all the time,” Wedge said. “But it looked like the ball bum-rushed him a little bit and he started back-pedaling.”
Instead of being out of the inning, Josh Willingham stepped up and doubled to left off of Brandon League to score two runs and turn the one-run lead into three – effectively killing any sort of rally hopes.
“Leaguer did a good job coming in and putting the ball on the ground,” Wedge said. “If we’re more aggressive right there, it’s probably a double-play ball.”
I didn't get a chance to talk with Figgins. He talked to MLB.com's Doug Miller quietly, and said "I have to make that play."
As for the man, who uses the team-encompassing pet phrase, he seemed to at least manage his struggles. Fister wasn’t particularly sharp on Sunday. But he gutted his way through his lack of command and gave the Mariners six innings, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
“It was a constant struggle again today, trying to keep the ball down,” Fister said. “I missed a lot of pitches and they capitalized on a few them. It was about minimizing mistakes.”
The best job of minimizing came in the fifth inning when he gave up a lead-off triple to Coco Crisp. But instead of just conceding what figured to be an eventual run, Fister battled. He got Daric Barton to ground out to Adam Kennedy at first. He coaxed an infield pop up from David DeJesus and then got Josh Willingham to fly out to end the threat.
“This kid is a competitor,” Wedge said. “He bows his neck and says, ‘Let’s go.’ That’s not easy to do, to leave a guy out there like that in that situation.”
Wedge will take the outing he got from Fister. The starting pitching did its part, as it often does with the Mariners.
“He didn’t’ have his best stuff, but he battled,” Wedge said. “He didn’t give in to it. That was a gutsy performance on his part. He was a little bit more under the ball today, a little more up than he normally is. But he did a good job of fixing it and getting the ball down and making pitches when he needed to.”
After 17 straight games without a break where they went 6-11, the Mariners get a much needed off day before opening a three-game series in Detroit, followed by a three-game series in Boston.
“That’s a long stretch early in the year,” Wedge said. “Hopefully it will help these guys as much mentally as well as physically.”