By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — If the Mariners sought to make Kendrys Morales feel needed upon his return, then mission accomplished. Thursday’s weak 4-0 rollover loss to Baltimore was nothing if not an ongoing cry for offensive help.
They got five hits, all singles, in eight innings against Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen. They failed to get a runner past first after the first inning. They also surrendered their lead in the American League wild-card race.
All that was missing was a fly-over plane dragging a banner:
Save us, Kendrys!
“(Chen) was good,” first baseman Corey Hart said. “I don’t if we made him look better than he was. He’s 11-3. So he’s good, but we’re kind of in a funk. Some guys are good, and other guys we make them look good.
“We’ve got to figure it out fast.”
The Orioles, who lead the AL East by three games, took command with a four-run third inning against Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma.
Ryan Flaherty and Caleb Joseph led off with singles, which put runners at first and second, before Nick Markakis grounded an RBI single through first baseman Corey Hart for a 1-0 lead.
Delmon Young followed by crushing a first-pitch slider for a three-run homer over the left-field wall.
And it was 4-0.
The significance there is the Mariners average just 3.92 runs a game, which ranks ahead of only Houston among the 15 American League clubs.
That helps explain why they made the trade earlier in the day to reacquire Morales and also why they might want to keep shopping.
“Listen, we’re not swinging well right now,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’ll just have to keep grinding it out. Tonight was not a pretty night. When you don’t hit, you don’t look good. You look flat.”
Iwakuma (8-5) gave up four runs and five hits in the third. So it didn’t matter that, otherwise, he was dominant: no runs and just two hits in his other six innings.
“I didn’t start off too well today,” Iwakuma said. “I was flying open. I was trying to make my adjustment on the mound. I was able to make my adjustment in the end, but it was too late.
“(Young) got to that pitch up in the zone. It was slider, and it hurt me.”
Chen (11-3) departed after the eighth inning. Darren O’Day completed the shutout with a one-two-three ninth. It was all brisk and surgically precise.
So now what?
There is no shortage of stats, traditional and sabermetric, to explain the Mariners’ recent malaise. Most of them point to an attack that has scored fewer than four runs in 14 of its last 17 games.
The only stats, ultimately, that matter are these: The Mariners have lost three straight, five of seven since returning from the All-Star break and nine of their last 13.
They have, in the process, dropped one-half game behind New York and Toronto in the race for the AL’s final wild-card slot.
Chris Taylor marked his major-league debut with a single, one of the Mariners’ five hits, and a clean game at shortstop. And…Felix Hernandez starts Friday. Also, Morales should be in the lineup.
The Mariners’ only scoring chance came in the first after James Jones led off with a walk, stole second and went to third on Stefen Romero’s grounder to first. He tried to score on Robinson Cano’s topper to the pitcher.
Chen flipped the ball from his glove to Joseph, and umpire Jim Reynolds signaled out. The Mariners asked for (and got) a review, believing Joseph blocked the plate in violation of the new rules, but the call stood.
“I’m a little puzzled with that,” McClendon said. “He didn’t have the ball. His foot was in front of the plate. He caught the ball, and he blocked it. To me, that’s blocking the plate. I don’t know how else you can describe it.”
Everything that followed? Lots of way to describe that.