By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Runners in scoring position has become more of a suggestion than a threat for the Seattle Mariners early in the season.
Having the top of their lineup unavailable didn’t help.
Another good outing from left-hander Joe Saunders at Safeco Field was wasted by quiet Seattle bats in a 3-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.
Saunders is 7-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 career starts at Safeco. He pitched seven innings and allowed one unearned run against the Rangers on Saturday.
Yet, his teammates at the plate couldn’t deliver runs, and the bullpen couldn’t supply relief.
Without outfielders Franklin Gutierrez (leg tightness), Michael Morse (fractured pinky) and Michael Saunders (on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained shoulder), the Mariners changed the top of their lineup against Texas starter Alexi Ogando.
Endy Chavez, just called up from Class AAA Tacoma, led off. He was 1-for-4. Jason Bay hit second and picked up two singles. Kendrys Morales, the only part of the first four in his usual spot, was 0-for-4. Raul Ibanez was 0-for-4 in the cleanup spot.
The Mariners (5-8) left eight runners on base. Kelly Shoppach led off the fifth inning with a double and Dustin Ackley, who has reverted to his old batting stance, singled to right field to put runners at the corners with none out.
Brendan Ryan struck out. Chavez popped out to shallow left. Bay flipped a shallow fly ball to center that fell for an RBI single. That pushed in Seattle’s only run of the night and resulted in a meager 1-0 lead.
“We just need to loosen things up a little bit by creating a little more offensively,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Texas tied the game on a bizarre double play.
The bases were loaded when Nelson Cruz hit a soft liner to Justin Smoak, who dropped the ball when Adrian Beltre blocked his vision. Smoak scooped the ball up and chose to throw to second instead of home. That produced a force out.
Ryan pivoted and threw to Kyle Seager at third, who eventually tagged out Ian Kinsler in a run down. But, Leury Garcia, who led off the inning with his first career hit, scored during the process to tie the score at 1-1.
“The ball should have been caught, first of all,” Smoak said. “It happened so quick, I just threw it to second. I thought (that was) our only chance to get something out of it.
“Had a lot of things I could have done there. Thrown it home, tag Beltre and tag first … all that stuff is running through your head at one time.”
The bases were loaded for Cruz after the Mariners’ sure-handed shortstop Ryan had a hard grounder kick up high and into his body off Kinsler’s bat. What appeared to be a potential double play ended up leaving two runners on base. Saunders intentionally walked Beltre to get to Cruz, who ended the inning with the curious double play.
The Mariners had two on with two out in the bottom of the sixth, but Ackley flied out to deep right, part of Seattle’s 2-for-8 night with runners in scoring position.
Wedge said Ackley is “making some adjustments” to his swing, namely eliminating a timing mechanism he had worked into his stance in spring training by moving his hands forward before pulling them back again.
“Just trying to get comfortable to where he’s in a better position to hit,” Wedge said of Ackley.
The game slipped away from the Mariners in the eighth when Carter Capps (0-1) had an odd inning.
A 2-2 fastball he threw to Craig Gentry appeared to be a strike, but was called a ball. Capps walked Gentry with the next pitch.
Texas (8-4) moved Gentry to second and Elvis Andrus’ flare to right landed just inside the right-field line to score Gentry for a 2-1 Texas lead.
Andrus took off for second with Beltre at bat. Beltre stepped out of the box, but time wasn’t called. Capps’ fastball clicked off Shoppach’s mitt for a wild pitch that moved Andrus to third. Beltre singled to left two pitches later to score Andrus.
“I thought the umpire gave him time,” Capps said. “(The outing) was a weird one.”
The Mariners had just one baserunner in the final three innings and went 1-2-3 in the ninth against Texas closer Joe Nathan.