John Hickey

Langerhans comes off bench to give Mariners a 2-1 victory over Rangers

    SEATTLE – There’s no telling when a bench player will get a chance to play.

    And there’s no telling when he will convert that opportunity into major success.

    A case in point Sunday was Ryan Langerhans, Seattle’s backup outfielder who doesn’t play all that often. When he does, sometimes the results are not good – he was hitless in his last 20 at-bats stretching over the last 40 days.

    But start he did Sunday against Texas, giving center fielder Franklin Gutierrez a chance to DH for a day while left fielder Michael Saunders moved to center.

    What was Langerhans day like? Well, the Mariners beat the first-place Rangers 2-1, and they would not have beaten them without Langerhans.

    He broke his 0-for-20 streak with a single in his first at-bat in the second inning.

    In the sixth inning he was fooled briefly by a line drive hit over his head by Vladimir Guerrero, but he played the bounce off the wall nicely and threw Guerrero out at second. And a good thing, too, because the next Texas hitter, Nelson Cruz, homered. That would prove to be the Rangers’ only run.

    Still, the homer tie the game until the bottom of the seventh when Langerhans hit a fly ball down the right field line that hit fair and bounced into the corner for a leadoff triple. Moments later Josh Wilson singled in front of left field David Murphy for a single that gave the Mariners the lead and, ultimately, the win.

    And what did Langerhans want to talk about after the game? His last at-bat in the eighth inning when he flew out to deep right with two out and two on.

    “I’d have liked to have gotten that last one,’’ he said. “If I didn’t, it wouldn’t have been so tense in the top of the ninth.’’

    It was tense, because closer David Aardsma walked two men and wound up with runners at first and third with two out when Murphy grounded out to Wilson at shortstop. Ultimately it was the Mariners’ win, and it was because of Langerhans, who has a knack of big play performances.

    On Aug. 7 last year hit a walkoff homer in the 11th innings against Tampa Bay. On Aug. 25 he hit another walkoff homer, this one against Oakland.

    “You can’t say enough about what he did today,’’ winning pitcher Doug Fister said. Fister threw seven innings, allowing just one run on the Cruz homer. “There was the triple, but you can’t leave out the throw to get Vlad at second.’’

    The win gave the Mariners a series win, the first time since Aug. 16-18 that Seattle had taken two of three in a series. It was the first series win for Seattle against the Rangers this year, having been 0-4 earlier in the season.

    “Fister was outstanding, really outstanding,’’ interim manager Daren Brown said. “He gave up some hits (seven), but I’ve always felt that hits don’t beat you, runs beat you. And he made big pitches when he had to.’’

    Fister got lots and lots of defensive help. Third baseman Jose Lopez threw out Ian Kinsler in the seventh when Kinsler was trying to score from third base on a grounder with the game tied at 1-all. And Michael Saunders, moved from left to right so that Franklin Gutierrez could spend the day as a DH, made a leaping catch at the wall to take extra bases away from Cruz in the fourth.

    The Mariners needed those kinds of performances because once again they didn’t have much going offensively. Ichiro Suzuki, who had five consecutive multiple-hit games against Texas, was shut down by right-hander Tommy Hunter. Langerhans wound up as the only Mariner with two hits and Texas out-hit the Mariners 10-7.

    “We got some hits when we needed them for Fister,’’ Brown said, “And Fister and the relievers did a nice job.’’

 

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3

 

Mariners’ Hernandez pitching like a Cy Young contender again

    SEATTLE – For a guy who seems to have no chance to win the Cy Young Award, Felix Hernandez is putting up some Cy Young-ish numbers.

    The Mariner ace threw a four-hit shutout for eight innings Sunday and closer David Aardsma did the rest with a perfect ninth inning as Seattle pinned a 3-0 loss on Cleveland in the final game of the homestand.

    Hernandez pitched twice in the homestand, and those were two of the four games Seattle won in the nine games against the Twins, Angels and Indians. He didn’t give up a run in either start, throwing 15 consecutive shutout innings.

    In the process, he’s moved into the AL lead in innings pitched (219.1) and strikeouts (209) and is second in the AL ERA race at 2.30, just a bit behind Boston’s Clay Buchholz at 2.25.

    “It’s not easy to do what Felix is doing,’’ right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who had two of Seattle’s eight hits, said. “Every time he goes out there, no matter what we know we have a chance to win.’’

    And that’s saying something, given that the Mariners are mired in last place in the American League West and have been for months thanks to an offense that is perhaps the worst any Seattle team has ever put together.

    “He’s having just an incredible year, and it’s a year when we haven’t given him a ton of support,’’ DH Russell Branyan said Sunday. Branyan homered, doubled and drove in two of the three Seattle runs Sunday. “It’s one of those bizarre years when we can’t score for him.

    “But he still goes out and shoves it up people’s butts, game after game.’’

    Hernandez got a run in the second inning when rookie center fielder Michael Saunders brought home a 1-0 lead with an infield out. As it would happen, that was all that Hernandez would need, and he could feel it at the time, too.

    “I said, `OK, we’ve got a lead. Now I’ve got to go and do my job,’ ’’ Hernandez said. “That’s all I can control; that’s all any pitcher can control. Going out, throwing strikes and getting as many zeroes as you can. That’s what pitching is.’’

    Cleveland manager Manny Acta said he knew going in that Sunday had a chance to be a tough day with Hernandez on the other side.

    “Felix was just way too much for us; we are not a very good matchup with him,’’ Acta said. “We are second in the league in strikeouts and he’s is on top of the league in strikeouts. He was tough. Typical Felix.’’

    For someone who has a chance to lead the league in three of the four major statistical pitching categories (his 11-10 record means he won’t be anywhere close in the wins derby), the 24-year-old Hernandez seems to be taking the whole thing in stride.

    “That would be nice,’’ Hernandez said of the chance to win the ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched races. “But it’s not something I’m thinking about right now. I just want to go out every game and give the team a chance to win.’’

    The trouble is, too much of the time the Mariners haven’t been giving Hernandez a chance to win. They are averaging 3.17 runs per game for him. He’s lost 10 times, and in those 10 losses they’ve scored just 10 runs – only seven runs while Hernandez was actually in the game.

    That makes life tough.

    “Every game he gives you a chance to win because he’s such a competitor,’’ interim manager Daren Brown said. “No one wants to win more than Felix.’’

    That’s part of what makes his performance this year so amazing – pitching like a winner without getting the wins to show for it.

 

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com). Twitter: @JHickey3. Felix Hernandez photo courtesy of Mike Tigas via Wikimedia Commons.

M’s French, Moore starting to mature as 2010 winds down

    SEATTLE – It was pretty easy to tell that Luke French had the game of his career Friday against Cleveland.

    Just look at the boxscore. He pitched seven innings, giving up one run and three walks. The Seattle Mariners beat the Indians 1-0.

    French was astute enough to know that he didn’t do it alone. He was quick to point out that his catcher, Adam Moore, may have had the game of his life, too – at least defensively.

    Moore threw out a base stealer with no one out in the ninth inning, then later in the ninth, with runners on second and third and the Seattle lead looking shakier than the San Andreas Fault during earthquake season, Moore smothered a hard slider thrown in the dirt by closer David Aardsma.

    “I can’t say enough about what Adam did in the ninth inning,’’ French said after watching the rest of the game from the Seattle bench. “That was just a great job. He’s got a great feel for catching.’’

    The caught stealing – base runner Trevor Crowe was thrown out the first pitch after Aardsma walked him to open the ninth – will show up in the boxscore. The blocked ball won’t show up anywhere, even though it meant the game to the Mariners. And to Moore.

    “I was going to get my body in front of that ball any way I could,’’ Moore said. “There’s no way I can let that run score.’’

    Interim manager Daren Brown said the progression Moore has made from the beginning of the season to now is remarkable in that he’s had to get so much on-the-job training when he wasn’t in the minor leagues.

    “He’s come up here and had to learn our pitchers,’’ Brown said. “Then he had to learn the (league’s) hitters. And when he can, he also had to learn the (opposing) pitchers. That’s a lot to do.

    “But he’s really come along. That block in the ninth inning with a man on third base was huge for us. And as you saw tonight, he can throw. I really like what I am seeing with him.’’

    The same can be said for French, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and gave Seattle seven shutout innings with just the one hit and three walks allowed. It was the most complete game of French’s career.

    “That’s the best rhythm I’ve ever seen him have, and I’ve caught him in the minor leagues as well as up here,’’ Moore said. “Whatever he wanted to throw, he threw it right. The ball was where he wanted it to be all night.’’

    It had to be, because after allowing a first-inning run – and pitching out of a bases-loaded none-out jam after the run had scored – Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona threw a gem himself – a complete game allowing just four hits and five walks.

    “Fausto was fantastic,’’ Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. “He came out of that bases-loaded jam in the first inning and was just light out after that.

    “French did a fantastic job tonight, too. He proved that he can throw hard and location is big. He located his fastball on our guys and had a good changeup.’’

    Seattle leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki opened the Mariners’ first with a single, moved to second when Carmona walked Chone Figgins, then scored on a single to center by Franklin Gutierrez. Another walk loaded the bases, but Jose Lopez struck out and Casey Kotchman bounced into a double play. After that, the Mariners got two hits and three walks, and three of those five base runners came with two out and nobody on.

 

    John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3

 

Bobblehead giveaways over, losing Mariners face attendance woes

    SEATTLE – The Mariners drew 37,798 fans Friday for the opening of their series with the Twins.

    There don’t figure to be many more games of 35,000-plus for the Mariners this year with Seattle 23 games out of first place.

    The only reason Seattle drew that many Friday was a bobblehead giveaway of Ichiro Suzuki which had fans lined up four hours before the first pitch. It was the fifth and last bobblehead promotion of the season for the Mariners. Seattle lost, 6-3, to Minnesota.

    At the beginning of the decade the Mariners could be counted upon to be one of the American League leaders in home attendance. From 2000-2003 the Mariners drew over 3 million fans per year to the then-new Safeco Field. It didn’t hurt that the club won 90-plus games a season during that stretch.

    In four of the previous six years before 2010, the club lost more games than it one, three times losing 90 or more. So the attendance has fallen off, and that brings us to Friday night, when the Mariners had their last big giveaway of the year. Seattle now can only rely on the appearance of visiting teams who are big draws, and the only team fitting that category is Boston, which itself is struggling this year. The Red Sox are in Sept. 13-15.

    The bobblehead night has generally been a good one for Ichiro, who had a single and a triple and scored the first of Seattle’s three runs Friday. For his career, the right fielder is 14-for-42, .333 when the Mariners have given away a bobblehead featuring him over the last decade.

    He hasn’t generally been a big fan of his likeness on bobbleheads over the years, although this year is different – as of Friday night, he said he hadn’t seen this year’s version.

    The lines were long outside Safeco Field for the giveaway, but the lines haven’t been long this year for the baseball. And Friday night was another example of the problem the Mariners have.

    If the starting pitcher isn’t on top of his game – and lefty Jason Vargas wasn’t – the Mariners are hard-pressed to win. Seattle was down 2-0 after two innings, got a run back thanks to an Ichiro triple in the third, then were down 6-1 after 5½ innings.

    Seattle would go on to score three runs in the game, getting one run in the seventh on an RBI hit by shortstop Josh Wilson and another in the ninth on a run-scoring hit by second baseman Chone Figgins.

    But it was the eighth inning that was the one that defined what has gone wrong for the Seattle offense this year. They went wrong when Don Wakamatsu was the manager, and they are going wrong now with interim manager Daren Brown in charge. Seattle is 8-8 under Brown but he has seen the team lose five of its last six.

    The root problem hasn’t changed. Specifically, but not exclusively, the Mariners aren’t coming up with big hits.

    Seattle got three runs Friday night, but none of them came when they should have – with the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning. A single by Russell Branyan, an error and a walk loaded the bases for Franklin Gutierrez. The Twins had Matt Guerrier take over for the shaky Randy Flores. Guerrier went 2-0 to Gutierrez, then got him to pop out. Adam Moore then grounded into a double play.

    “If we keep putting ourselves in those kinds of situations,’’ Brown said after the game, “I believe we will eventually get the big hit.’’

    Wakamatsu said variations of that same theme for four months, then got fired when enough of those big hits didn’t come.

 

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3

 

With 5-1 loss, Brown needs to see more from M’s before making judgments

SEATTLE – On Monday and Tuesday, new Seattle manager Daren Brown saw some of the best that the Mariners have to offer.

Good pitching, good defense and just enough offense to get by.

Wednesday, however, saw the other side of the coin – the defense was still there, but mediocre pitching and anemic offense kept Seattle from sweeping a three-game series from Oakland, the A’s winning the finale behind left-handed pitcher Dallas Braden.

“I liked the last two games better than this one,” Brown said after a 5-1 loss. “But overall I’ve seen things I’ve liked. I’m happy with the way the first three games have gone.”

When he took the job from the fired Don Wakamatsu, Brown said he’d need to see the team “a couple of games” before he started evaluating what he has on hand. After having seen three games, he now knows he’ll need a little more time.

“When you are 110 games into the season, you’re not going to change guys’ routines,” he said.

Brown knows most of the Mariners from his time managing in Tacoma and his two new aides – pitching coach Carl Willis and bench coach Roger Hansen – have some familiarity with the club after having worked in the minor league system.

But that’s not the same as having a good idea of how the club interacts as a group and plays as a team on a daily basis. It’s likely that the four-city, 12-game, 13-day road trip will go a long way toward allowing Brown and Co. to cement their opinions.

The Mariners only scored six runs in the three-game set with the A’s, and most of the time that’s not going to be enough to win even one game in a series, much less two games. But Seattle is generally getting good pitching, good enough to be competitive.

Wednesday starter Luke French tried to follow suit, but down 2-0 in the fourth he allowed a leadoff walk in the fifth and that led to two runs. Now down 4-0, the Mariners didn’t have enough zip to come back, although Ichiro Suzuki opened the seventh with a single and for a brief moment seemed to have the Mariners ready to bash Braden.

Seattle went on to load the bases with one out and Franklin Gutierrez whacked a drive to deep left that the A’s Chris Carter caught with his back to the wall. The ball needed another couple of feet to go for a game-tying grand slam. Instead, Ichiro tagged up and scored from third base.

The Mariners didn’t get another base runner the rest of the afternoon, Braden retiring the final eight batters he faced in succession to keep Seattle at bay.

Ichiro, Jose Lopez, Russell Branyan and Gutierrez had the only hits off Braden, and all of those were singles.

“He has the good pitchers’ ability to locate his pitches,” Branyan said. “He has a real good changeup, too. When you have that combination, you going to have a chance to compete, a chance to be very effective. He sure was today.”

Even so, the Mariners have won two series in succession for the first time since June 18-24, and they enter Cleveland Friday with a chance to win three series in succession for the first time since the first few weeks of the season.

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3

 

Rare triple play defuses some of the tensions for Mariners

    SEATTLE – The firing of manager Don Wakamatsu was not, in the end, the strangest thing that happened in Safeco Field Monday.

    The Mariners did let Wakamatsu go and brought up Daren Brown from Triple-A Tacoma to manage.

    But, hey, that stuff happens all the time. Brown is the fifth manager for Seattle in the last three-plus years.

    The four-inning triple play started by third baseman Jose Lopez – now that’s rare. There have been only 10 in Seattle history (as opposed to 17 managers) and there hadn’t been one turned by Seattle since 1995.

    It was a nice ice-breaker for the Mariners, who were dealing with emotional issues that crop up when a manager and coaches – bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and pitching coach Rick Adair also were axed – get sent packing.

    With Oakland runners on first and second and none out in the fourth inning, Lopez started the first triple play in 15 years for the Mariners.

    It got starting pitcher Doug Fister out of a jam in a game he’d go on to win 3-1 with three innings of help from his bullpen.

    More than that, however, it took everyone’s mind off the firing of Wakamatsu, who was replaced by Triple-A manager Daren Brown.

    Lopez backhanded the ball a step from third base, threw the ball to second baseman Chone Figgins, who relayed to first baseman Casey Kotchman.

    None of the three had ever been involved in a triple play in the big leagues. For Figgins and Kotchman, it was the first triple play at any level ever.

    “When Lopey came up with the ball, I didn’t want him to throw it to me,’’ Kotchman said. “I wanted him to throw it to Figgy. Then I wanted the ball thrown to me. If I was ever in a triple play, it would have had to have been back in T-ball.’’

    Figgins said that not only had he never taken part in a triple play, “I’ve never even seen one until tonight.’’

    To listen to the batter, Mark Ellis of the A’s, he still hasn’t.

    “I was safe,’’ Ellis said, calmer after the game than he was when he tried to explain to first base umpire Cory Blaser that he beat the throw from Figgins. “There really isn’t anything else to say. It’s not why we lost.’’

    Figgins and Lopez have joked about turning a triple play, and Figgins said the third baseman told him just the other day that in a situation with men on first and second and none out on a ball hit down the line “he’d be coming to me,’’ Figgins said.

    “You talk about stuff like that all the time during BP,’’ the second baseman said. “But it never happens, at least it doesn’t happen too often.’’

    For Brown, who has been working for the Mariners for 10 years, he said the game was “just the way I’d draw it up,’’ except for the triple play.

    “The coolest moment of the night for me was the triple play,’’ he said. “I credit Josh Wilson for staying out of it.’’

    Wilson, the shortstop, made a point of staying clear of the throw between Lopez and Figgins.

    “I made sure I didn’t screw it up,’’ Wilson said with a laugh.

 

John Hickey is a National Baseball Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3

 

Wakamatsu is wha– ? He’s sacked! Brown takes over as M’s interim manager

    SEATTLE – One year after being toasted as one of the best young managers in the game, Don Wakamatsu is unemployed.

    General manager Jack Zduriencik sacked Wakamatsu Monday morning, replacing him with Triple-A Tacoma manager Daren Brown. Also shown the door were coaches Ty Van Burkleo (bench) and Rick Adair (pitching), replaced by Roger Hansen (bench) and Carl Willis (pitching).

    Although he spoke about the firing for almost half an hour, Zduriencik couldn’t, or more likely wouldn’t give a specific reason for the firing other than he’s lost confidence in Wakamatsu, Van Burkleo and Adair being the right men for the Mariners now and going forward.

    It wasn’t any one thing, Zduriencik said. It wasn’t the fallout over Ken Griffey Jr. quitting mid-season. It wasn’t the fallout over second baseman Chone Figgins getting into it in the dugout with Wakamatsu late last month.

    Asked if he thought some of his players quit on Wakamatsu, Zduriencik said “I didn’t say that.’’ Asked if Wakamatsu lost control of the clubhouse, Zduriencik said “That’s not a fair question.’’ Asked if Wakamatsu had lost the team, Zduriencik said “I didn’t use that phrase.’’

   And player reaction suggested that they had all the confidence in the world in Wakamatsu. When closer David Aardsma was asked about suggestions that Wakamatsu had lost control of the team, he got an incredulous look on his face.

    “I wonder where that comes from,’’ Aardsma said. “What did he lose? That really surprises me. I sit here trying to figure out what he did wrong. We are the ones not doing our jobs. And he’s the one who pays the price.

    “We wanted him to stay. But we would have had to play better for that to happen. Honestly we have not played well, because if we had, he’d still be our manager.’’

    The trouble with the Mariners this year was the absurdly high expectations put on the team after last year’s 85 wins with the additions of Figgins and Cliff Lee. The expectations were crazy because the Mariners had no power, not much production in terms of on-base percentage, and a basically mediocre offense.

    Seattle is on pace to score fewer runs than the Mariners did in the 1994 season. And that was a strike year, when the Mariners only played 112 games. In 112 games this year they’ve scored 364 runs, or 3.16 runs per game. That’s not the manager. That’s the roster. And the roster is the purview of the general manager.

    “We entered this season with high expectations,’’ Zduriencik said. “I thought we had the opportunity to be very competitive. But I had my doubts. Things needed to go our way.

    “I accept full responsibility for our major league team’s poor performance this season, and I am determined to make the changes that are necessary as we move forward.’’

     More than once Zduriencik talked about the some of the positives of this season, of the Mariners’ minor league teams having one of the top five winning percentages in the game. Wins are one way to judge the minor league system. In terms of actual this-guy-can-help-us-at-some-point talent, scouts from other organizations aren’t as sold on the Mariners’ prospects as Zduriencik seems to be.

    At the big league level, Zduriencik traded for Milton Bradley, a player treated as radioactive by most general managers, and between injuries and anger management issues, he hasn’t been much of a factor in Seattle. Zduriencik also traded Cliff Lee, a candidate for his second Cy Young Award in three seasons, to Texas, for four players. First baseman Justin Smoak was supposed to prop up the offense, but the rookie has since been sent to Tacoma after a 2-for-36 stretch.

    Wakamatsu made his share of mistakes. The club’s base running has been abysmal, but the two men charged with working on the running, coaches Lee Tinsley and Mike Brumley, both have Zduriencik’s confidence and are staying.

    Brown and his coaching staff are now all interim. They will have a chance to apply for their jobs on a permanent basis at the end of the season, but Zduriencik said he was likely to start vetting candidates in the final six weeks or so of the season.

    “This is my 10th year in the organization, and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity,’’ Brown said. “The biggest challenge? Knowing that I can’t just come in and flip a swing and say that we’ve got it all figured out. I want to spend a couple of days with the club and assess it.

    “It’s not only easier for me but it’s easier for them. I know that the same guy who won 85 games last year (is gone). It’s part of this business.’’

 

John Hickey is a National Baseball Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com). Twitter: @JHickey3. Photo of Don Wakamatsu is from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Top of the order revving up for Mariners

    SEATTLE – The Mariners have waited all season for the time when Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins would be getting on base in bunches.

    It seems that after four months, that time is finally here.

   Both men had two hits Sunday, Ichiro scored twice and Figgins and one run scored and one driven in in the finale of three-game series with the Royals, a 3-2 Mariner victory.

    “Ichi and Figgy set the table and do their thing,’’ said first baseman Casey Kotchman, whose single in the sixth inning scored both Ichiro and Figgins as the Mariners took a 2-1 lead the club never relinquished. “When they do that, it makes it tough on the opponent.

    Figgins, who has a season-best seven-game hitting streak, is 12-for-23 during the first six games of the current homestand. Since July 27 he owns a .438 average. Since July 26, Ichiro’s average is .339.

    “It’s nice to see our top guys get on base like that,’’ Sunday’s winning pitcher, Jason Vargas said. “We had a couple of chances to score early, and when we didn’t get it done we came back later.’’

    Even in a year where the Mariners have slumped collectively, Ichiro has remained in the top 10 in the American League in batting average, is second in the AL in hits and has more multiple-hit games (46) than anyone in the league.

    It hasn’t been so smooth a ride for Figgins. Two months into the season he was at .211 and he didn’t get over .250 until Saturday. He says he knows now what he was doing wrong.

    “In the first two months, I wasn’t attacking the baseball like I should,’’ he said. “The last two months, I have been. I’m getting a lot of hard ground balls now.’’

    The upsurge from Ichiro and Figgins isn’t going to turn the Mariners’ season into something to be celebrated. The Mariners took two of three for their first series victory since June 30-July 2 in Yankee Stadium. Seattle hadn’t had a series victory at home in Safeco Field since June 22-24 against the Cubs. Seattle still has only won consecutive games once since July 1.

    But any progress is better than no progress for a Mariner team that is only of just three teams in baseball to have reached 70 wins already. There will have to be a major push from the Mariners if they are going to avoid 100 losses.

    `We’ve been playing a little better baseball,’’ said Vargas, who threw six innings, allowed four hits and one run on 90 pitches for his eighth win of the season. “We’re making the plays we need to make.’’

    Vargas has turned out to be a hidden gem for Seattle. His .312 ERA is on the cusp of the top 10 in the league. He has 17 quality starts out of 22 total starts and five of his last six performances have resulted in quality starts.

    Fifteen times he’s allowed two runs or less, which is quality at any level you care to define. Manager Don Wakamatsu has been holding him back because at 138.2 innings with seven weeks of the season yet to play, the 27-year-old left-hander will shatter his 2009 innings total of 143.1 combined last year between Triple-A Tacoma and Seattle. Wakamatsu doesn’t want to burn out Vargas.

    On the other hand, Vargas doesn’t want to come out of games. He certainly didn’t want to come out Sunday, when he was lifted after just 90 pitches.

    “I argued for (pitching in) the seventh,’’ Vargas said. “But it’s not my call.’’

    Wakamatsu had seen Vargas struggle a bit in the fourth and again in the sixth, with the Royals getting their one run on an RBI single by Mike Aviles in the sixth. If there had been a smooth sixth, Vargas might have gone another inning.

    As it was, relievers Jamey Wright, Brandon League and David Aardsma got the Mariners through to the win, although Aardsma allowed a solo homer to pinch-hitter Alex Gordon in the ninth.

 

John Hickey is a National Baseball Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3

 

Mariners muscle up to beat K.C.’s Greinke for the first time

    Baseball makes no sense, Chapter 25:

    Mariners 7, Royals 1.

    It’s not that the Mariners beat the Royals; although Seattle is bad, Kansas City is bad, too. It’s just that the Mariners beat 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke Friday, which is the baseball equivalent of pole-vaulting 20 feet.

    Greinke was a perfect 4-0 in his career against the Mariners. In his previous 39 innings against Seattle, he’d allowed just two runs, one earned run, and at one point threw 31 consecutive scoreless innings.

    Ryan Langerhans, the backup outfielder who had never faced Greinke in his career, hit the first pitch he saw from the right hander out over the center-field fence, and for the rest of the night, the Mariners played inspired baseball – winning baseball at that.

    Langerhans went on to add a double and a single.

    Add to his story that of Chone Figgins. The second baseman was hitless in 21 career at-bats before he fouled off pitch after pitch in an 11-pitch at-bat in the third inning. Langerhans had started the inning with the homer, and when Figgins got to the plate, Jack Wilson, who had tripled, was on base with one out.

    Figgins dug deep against Greinke and finally slapped a grounder up the middle that second baseman Chris Getz couldn’t get to. That broke a 1-all tie and Seattle never looked back, with lefty Luke French pitching eight strong innings in the longest start of his big league career.

     “There was nothing easy about Greinke tonight,” Figgins said. “We just battled him and battled him. The last time we faced him, we battled him then, too, but we lost.”

    Langerhans wound up a triple short of hitting for the cycle (single, double, triple, homer), and “the guys let me know it,” he said with a grin.

    But Langerhans had not started a game since July 27, and so he wouldn’t much have cared if Cy Young himself was on the mound.

    “You prepare yourself to get ready – I always do,” he said. “You put in a lot of sweat, and you wait for your chance.”

    Langerhans got the start only because starting left fielder Michael Saunders banged up his shoulder and neck smashing into the wall in the vain pursuit of a fly ball Thursday against Texas’ David Murphy, a ball that turned out to be the game-winning homer.

    And Milton Bradley, the other semiregular left fielder, is on the disabled list, so it was manager Don Wakamatsu’s turn to point to Langerhans.

    “I’m happy, of course,” Langerhans said. “But a lot of guys contributed to tonight. We all did. And that’s what baseball’s all about.”

    French, who spent most of the season at Triple-A Tacoma, was making only his third start of the season in the big leagues. He ran into trouble with three consecutive two-out hits in the third that led to Kansas City’s run and an early 1-0 Royals lead.

    Two more K.C. hits to open the fifth had him in trouble, but first baseman Casey Kotchman caught a bunt off the bat of Royals catcher Jason Kendall and turned it into a double play, snuffing the rally. French would wind up allowing just one of the final 12 batters he faced to reach base.

    “This wasn’t about me,” French said. “This was all of us. There were a lot of contributions out there tonight besides mine.”

 

John Hickey is a national baseball writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com).

Twitter: @JHickey3

 

Mariners come up short for Felix one more time

    Back in spring training, the Mariners were almost giddy thinking about the kind of offense they could have with two proven leadoff hitters – Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins – batting at the top of their lineup.

    It hasn’t played out like that, however. Ichiro has played well, but he’s had an up-and-down season for the most part.

    Figgins has been a disappointment, both on offense and defense, but mostly on offense because Seattle had seen him so many times take over the game while playing for the Angels.

    In nine games since July 26, Ichiro is 16-for-45 for a .355 average. Figgins, batting second behind Ichiro, has been even better, 16-for-42, .381.

    But the results are far from what the Mariners expected. Seattle is 1-8 in the nine games since July 26, falling to a season-worst 29 games under .500 at 40-69. In those nine games, the Mariners have been shut out four times, including a 6-0 loss to the Rangers in the series finale Thursday.

    Mariner starter Felix Hernandez did what he could to battle for his team, throwing shutout baseball for six innings. But when rookie left fielder Michael Saunders couldn’t catch up with a line drive off the bat of David Murphy, the Rangers had a two-run homer in the seventh inning, and that was the ballgame.

    “It’s been good seeing Ichiro and Figgy heating up like this,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “They’re setting the table. But we still have to drive them in, and we haven’t been doing that.”

    Seattle particularly hasn’t been doing that with Hernandez on the mound. He’s their ace, but they give him runs as if each one was a tooth being extracted. He is 7-9 now, and in the nine losses, the Mariners have scored nine runs. They’ve scored only seven runs while Hernandez has been in the game.

    “This has been tough on Felix,” Wakamatsu said. “Especially in the last three outings. We haven’t scored a run for him in his last 18 innings. That’s hard to take. He doesn’t complain, but it’s got to get to you at some point.”

    Just as Wakamatsu said, Hernandez didn’t complain about the lack of support. A number of his teammates came by after the game to pat him on the back or offer a consoling word or two, but for the most part, all was silence in the Seattle clubhouse.

    When Hernandez talked, he wasn’t about to point fingers.

    “I can’t complain,” he said. “That’s just baseball. I’ve just got to keep working hard and pitching good. The season isn’t over yet.”

    Hernandez said he has 10 starts left, giving him plenty of time to turn around a 7-9 record into something more respectable. But either he is going to have to throw shutouts for nine innings, or the Mariners are going to have to find a way to score him some runs.

    “This was one of those nights for us,” Saunders said. “Unfortunately, he pitched good, but we didn’t give him any support. We’ll get better. If he keeps on pitching like this, things will get better.”

    Saunders may not be ready to make a contribution to the Seattle offense for a couple of days.

    He came out of the game after just missing a catch on Murphy’s homer, his right shoulder and neck having suffered some damage as he ran into the wall. Saunders said, “I’m fine,” but Wakamatsu said he doubted the rookie would play for a day or two because of the injury.

 

John Hickey is a national baseball writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com).

Twitter: @JHickey3