SEATTLE – Sometimes all that’s needed to break a losing streak is for a team to play its game one step at a time. Friday night, the Seattle Mariners tried that and it still didn’t work.
Step One: Joel Pineiro, who’d won only twice since early May, pulled himself together with seven strong innings.
The problems were Steps Two and Three.
The Detroit Tigers smacked Pineiro for three runs in the eighth inning to break open a close game, and the Mariners’ offense continued its silent treatment in a 6-1 loss at Safeco Field.
Step Four had a lot to do with the Mariners’ hitting problems.
Jeremy Bonderman, who grew up in Pasco, muffled the M’s on six hits and a run through 82/3 innings before he needed help from the bullpen to get the final out in the ninth.
Bonderman (8-4) extended the Mariners’ scoreless streak to 18 innings before Raul Ibanez dumped a two-strike, two-out single to center in the ninth inning to score Adrian Beltre. It was the Mariners first run since the eighth inning Tuesday, when Beltre’s ground out pushed home a run against the Angels.
By then, the Mariners’ fifth straight loss, and their sixth in seven games, was irreversible.
“We’ve got two more to play before the (All-Star) break and we’ve got to turn that around,” manager Mike Hargrove said.
One method is to uncork whatever is bottling up the offense.
Hargrove said the Mariners weren’t patient enough against Bonderman, and he spoke with the hitters about it.
After the game, Hargrove spent time talking with Ichiro Suzuki, who went hitless for a third straight game and jumped on pitches early in the count against Bonderman.
There was a feeling among Japanese reporters that Hargrove queried Suzuki about moving to center field after Shin-Soo Choo experienced his roughest night there since being called up Monday.
Choo broke the wrong way on a ball that fell in front of him for a double in the fifth inning, when the Tigers scored their second run, and Hargrove said a ball hit over his head for a ground-rule double in the ninth was catchable.
Offense, however, was the main culprit Friday, as it has been throughout the homestand.
“We’ve had some good pitching thrown at us,” Hargrove said. “We’re making contact, but it seems like when we hit the ball it’s right at people. And when we get into counts to drive the ball, we’re not. You go through spells like that, and they’re never fun when you do. It’s very frustrating for everybody.”
Bonderman was a big part of the problem, keeping the Mariners off-balance with sinkers and sliders that he wasn’t afraid to throw when he was behind in the count. He threw strikes and allowed only three baserunners in the first eight innings – Carl Everett’s double in the second, Richie Sexson’s double in the fifth and Jose Lopez’s single in the seventh.
Bonderman escaped all of those situations by getting ground-ball outs, including a double-play grounder by Ibanez in the seventh as the Mariners tried to come back from a 3-0 deficit.
“He kept the ball down,” Lopez said. “He didn’t care what the count was, on 3-2 he would throw the slider. Everybody on 3-2 is looking for the fastball but that guy would throw a slider.”
“That guy” now is 6-0 on the road this season. Bonderman said it was no more special beating the Mariners in his home state than winning against any other team anywhere else.
The Mariners’ most encouraging signs Friday were from their pitching.
Pineiro gave up single runs in the first, fifth and seventh before the Tigers chased him with three hits and three runs in the eighth. After what Pineiro has experienced since early May, he’ll take it.
“I felt great, but when you run into a hot team like Detroit and a pitcher like Bonderman, every little mistake counts,” Pineiro said. “But from the beginning I felt good, I felt strong.”
Julio Mateo finished the eighth, but not before Marcus Thames hit a two-run double that made the score 6-0.
That gave Hargrove the perfect opportunity to give his newest player, 23-year-old right-hander Mark Lowe, a non-pressure major league debut on the day he’d been called up.
Lowe, who began the season at the Class A level, loaded the bases on two hits and a hit batter, then calmed his nerves with a 97 mph fastball and a slider that resulted in a ground out and two strikeouts.
“Even from the first pitch to the last, I was doing everything I could to keep my composure,” Lowe said. “I was telling myself it’s just like A-ball.”